The South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) has released its review of Duke Energy Carolinas’ performance in response to the Dec. 15, 2005, ice storm that left over 500,000 Duke customers in upstate South Carolina without power.

Charged with representing the public interest in utility regulation, the ORS received over 360 contacts from upstate consumers (via telephone or online) regarding the service outage during the week immediately following the storm. The most frequent concern expressed was the length of time without power and not knowing when power was to be restored.

In response to the concerns expressed by Duke’s upstate customers and by several members of the S.C. General Assembly, the ORS initiated in January of 2006 a review of Duke’s performance with regard to the storm and began to request operational and financial information from Duke as part of the review process.

Over the past year, the ORS has been engaged in regular discussions with Duke to discuss storm recovery issues. The ORS has also gathered feedback on the reliability of the state’s electric transmission and distribution systems by attending public hearings in Columbia and Greenville held by the Public Utilities Subcommittee of the S.C. Senate Judiciary Committee. In addition, ORS representatives traveled to upstate cities to gather input from public officials regarding their experiences during the storm and their suggestions for what could be improved.

The focus of the review was to identify areas where there may be room for improvement in Duke’s infrastructure, operations, and response mechanisms. The 40-page report evaluates Duke’s storm management practices, includes Duke’s post-storm self-evaluation with resulting planned actions, and provides a summary of policy and operational recommendations to which Duke has agreed in principle. When implemented, these recommendations and planned actions should enhance Duke’s storm management practices.

One of the most notable recommendations involves Duke’s agreeing to offer an underground conversion mechanism, similar to that adopted by SCE&G, for municipalities in Duke’s service territories. This approach would include the use of a matching fund. The ORS is recommending that Duke explore this approach in future franchise agreement negotiations. This recommendation is of particular importance since the vast majority of outages resulting from the storm were due to overhead distribution lines being affected by falling trees or limbs.

Other highlights recommend that Duke:

  • Actively seek creative partnerships with municipalities and other entities to establish a financial support network for undergrounding projects that would minimize the economic impact to customers and rate payers.
  • Ensure it maintains current accurate contact information and adheres to its documented communication process to provide vital information to elected and public officials; this approach should include providing a direct employee contact prepared to respond to their concerns.
  • Provide to the ORS, within 60 days of receipt of the review report, the status of the company’s progress toward incorporating its planned actions into its storm management practices. These planned action items (detailed in the ORS report) were the result of Duke’s post-storm self-evaluation.

According to ORS Executive Director Dukes Scott, “The ORS greatly appreciates the cooperation of Duke throughout this review process. Our ultimate goal in conducting this review was to ensure that customers of Duke and of all our regulated utilities receive reliable and high quality service, even during times of extreme weather. Hopefully, the recommendations and planned actions agreed to in this review should enhance Duke’s ability to better respond to major outages.”