The New York State Public Service Commission has received a report from Staff of the Department of Public Service with recommendations designed to improve Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc.’s restoration and customer service performance during future storm events. The recommendations were developed after a thorough review of the company’s performance during and after the July and September 2006 storm outages in Westchester County.

Staff will work with the company to ensure implementation of all the recommendations by May 15, 2007, except those requiring more study.

“The assessment process undertaken by Staff after a major storm is an invaluable tool that enables the Commission to identify opportunities to improve response and restoration procedures,” said Commission Chairwoman Patricia L. Acampora. “Determining how we can improve storm response and restoration efforts is a critical part of our mission to ensure safe and reliable service. Implementation of the recommendations made by Staff, combined with those suggested by Con Edison itself, will ensure that the company is better prepared to respond to severe storms in the future.”

Con Edison complied with the Commission’s requirement that it file a report assessing all aspects of the company’s response to storm events providing several recommendations to improve its response to future storm events. The recommendations made by the company in its

Areas of continuing concern identified by Staff include:

  • The company’s ability to assess storm related damage and effectively mobilize resources. Con Edison has made some improvements in the process by which it makes assessment of the damage inflicted by a storm. However, the company is still evidencing problems in effectively mobilizing and using its own resources.
  • The company’s communication with municipal officials. In interviews with municipal officials, they acknowledged that company had made some improvement in its communications with municipalities during the July and September storm events, but feel more progress is needed.
  • The company’s communication with customers. Con Edison has increased the capacity of its call center to handle a greater number of calls and to do so more effectively. The company is still under-using its Web site and the media as methods of providing customers with pertinent and timely information on the status of the restoration effort.

    Background

    On the evening of July 18, 2006, a severe windstorm with 55-60 mph wind gusts struck Westchester County. Damage caused by lightning strikes and falling trees interrupted service to approximately 35,000 electric customers. The areas hit hardest were in the southern tier of the county. Additional storms hit the area on July 21 and 22, extending the restoration period.

    A second extended outage occurred when the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto reached the New York City metropolitan area on Sept. 2, 2006. The path of the storm was originally expected to pass west of Con Edison’s service territory by more than 200 miles. Instead, Tropical Storm Ernesto settled over Westchester and Bronx counties and lingered therefore approximately 18 hours. Heavy rains and high sustained winds continued throughout the storm. As a result of the storm, a total of 76,000 customers lost electric service in Westchester County.

    A severe storm had previously hit Westchester County in January 2006 and Staff conducted a thorough investigation of Con Edison’s preparation and response. Staff issued its analysis and recommendations for that storm in June 2006. At the time of the July and September outages, Con Edison had not yet completed its implementation of the recommendations made by Staff in the January 2006 storm report.

During Staff’s investigation, information was gathered which indicates that during the September event, Con Edison may have failed to comply with certain provisions of the customer service outage notification incentive mechanism (mechanism) that was incorporated in the company’s March 2005 Rate Plan. The provisions of the mechanism measure Con Edison’s performance in customer notification during service outages. One aspect of the mechanism requires specific revenue adjustments if the company has failed to comply with notification criteria, including those for critical care facilities. Staff is currently investigating this matter further and will report its findings to the Commission for appropriate action.

The company’s ability to timely and accurately determine a global estimated restoration time and communicate that to customers. During the July storm event, the company failed to timely and accurately fully communicate to customers a global estimated restoration time. In both the July and September storms, the company was not able to achieve total restoration within the time established in its emergency plan for the storm level classification assigned by the company. Con Edison’s emergency restoration plan for the Bronx/Westchester Region urgently needs to be reviewed and updated, particularly with regard to the minimum staffing levels for various storm classifications.July storm report included improvements to internal communications, training, and line clearance. The company’s September report identified additional improvements that could be made to internal communications, external communications with municipal contacts, call center activities, training, and line clearance/tree trimming. After a thorough review, among the determinations made by Staff was that Con Edison, in its assessment, inadequately addressed issues related to resource mobilization, staffing, restoration time estimation, and communications.