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Economy & Business

PUC Studied Power Companies' Responses To Outages

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As many Pittsburghers were reminded in July, inclement weather can cause major power outages, which also results in problems for the state’s electric distribution companies (EDCs). Three reports released by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) detail the corrective actions being taken related to severe weather in 2011. Jennifer Kocher, Press Secretary for the PUC, said collectively, the reports were centered around the storm-related power outages. “Those extreme weather events caused 3.8 million electric outages in Pennsylvania, which is the highest number of customer outages in the past nine years, and on top of that, many of the customers who experienced outages were without power for 72 hours or longer,” Kocher said. The multiple storms over an extended period of time presented an opportunity for further review of the performances by electric companies. Kocher said the PUC assessed the procedures and also made recommendations to the power companies to address other concerns. “At the same time, the PUC was making a number of adjustments and changes to its procedures and enacting new things, and then we were also following up and asking the utilities, or requiring the utilities to also put into place some new procedures in order to help customers and ensure that we can have a more reliable electric system,” Kocher said. The first report detailed the preparations and response by electric companies during Hurricane Irene. The second examined the inadequacy of certain companies’ ability to handle a high volume of customer calls within the first day of a long-term outage, which Kocher credited to today’s technology. “Part of that is that people have more accessibility. A lot of times previously when people would lose power or lose those things, they would lose their phone service or they would lose their ability to call in an outage, or they would call in once. Now, with cellular phones, even if you lose your landline service, you can still call in with cellular phones,” Kocher said. The third report explained how the PUC requested information from all electric companies on electrical outages for the six months prior to November 10, 2011. Kocher said the PUC will continue to look at communication methods between electric companies and their customers. “We’re also looking at improving the system as a whole, and the reliability of the system whether that is dealing with replacements or if it’s even just determining if there’s a better vegetation management cycle that should be put into place for a different, each utility,” Kocher said.