2018 outage aftermath: What PUC learned
PPL fixes downed lines on March 2, 2018, on North Street in Jim Thorpe during Winter Storm Riley. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO
Back-to-back storms in March 2018 left many area residents without power for days.
A recent report from the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission listed 12 recommendations to electric distribution companies for improvements in future storm responses.
Winter Storm Riley, March 1-3, 2018, produced high wind gusts up to 60 mph and rain that changed into heavy, wet snow throughout the state. Around 680,000 outages across the state were reported during the peak of the storm.
Winter Storm Quinn delivered high winds up to 25 mph and additional snowfall accumulations of up to 14 inches in the same areas already trying to recover from the first storm.
In terms of the outages caused by both Quinn and Riley, the majority of customers, 83 percent, were restored by 8 p.m. on March 5, and all customers were restored by March 13 at the latest.
“These storms resulted in hundreds of thousands of electric customer outages,” said PUC Chairman Gladys Brown Dutrieulle.
“While we recognize the dedication and service of all utility workers who faced very challenging circumstances responding to storms Riley and Quinn, we also recognize that some areas need to be improved as we prepare for the future.”
After-action review meetings were held by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Pike County Emergency Management, as well as a public input session conducted by the Borough of Stroudsburg, and a hearing by the Pennsylvania House Majority Policy Committee. Met-Ed also held a customer education workshop in East Stroudsburg.
One of the recommendations is an informal reliability investigation of Met-Ed for its delay in initiating its damage assessment process, and in particular the damage assessment process for the quarantined circuits in Monroe and Pike counties. Met-Ed’s coverage area includes Saylorsburg and Ross Township.
On March 8, 2018, the PUC conducted a conference call with Met-Ed operational staff to better understand the delays in restoration to the southern Pike County and northern Monroe County areas.
As of 8 a.m. that day, Met-Ed was reporting approximately 18,000 customers still out of service with the majority in the region mentioned. This was not much of an improvement since March 7 at 8 a.m., when Met-Ed reported 20,622 out.
“Since the majority of work was being performed on the backbone feeder lines, Met-Ed and mutual aid crews were not visible in the affected areas and this caused many questions to be raised anecdotally by stakeholders as to Met-Ed’s efficient use of manpower,” the report states. “It appeared Met-Ed should have more effectively communicated its restoration strategy to the public and local and state officials.”
According to the report, PPL conducted a system outage modeling on Feb. 28 based on the weather forecast, notified internal emergency response personnel of the hazardous outlook of the system modeling, canceled any new time off requested through the duration of the event, verified internal resources of line, electrical, trouble, and assessors by region, verified contractor line resources and notified contractor leadership to prepare for storm activation, and created damage assessment and restoration strategies per region based on predicted storm impact.
The report found that PPL was staffed for a March 2 7 a.m. start with 250 line personnel, 55 contractor tree crews, and 185 contractor line personnel prearranged for storm response. Regional operating centers were sufficiently staffed.
After 72 hours, PPL restored approximately 80 percent of its customers from the peak number of outages (as reported to the PUC). PPL restored approximately 91 percent of customers from the peak after 96 hours. It had full restoration by March 10 at 2:45 a.m., approximately eight days after the initial outage. By comparison, PPL was fully restored in 9 days after Sandy and 3.8 days after Nika.
Deadline for answers
Electric companies are required to update the PUC on its progress on the recommendations by September 2019.
Other recommendations to electric distribution companies include:
• Continued cooperation and communication with county 911 centers and emergency management agencies, and continued liaisons for expected major service outage events.
• Meetings with each county in their service territories at least annually to review emergency procedures and expectations for responses, road closures and the EDC liaison processes.
• During significant weather events that may cause utility infrastructure to be involved in road closures, electric companies should work with county emergency management to ensure consensus on the priority of work in addressing public safety, which may be opening priority roads before addressing priority restoration.
• Continued collaboration on a best practice for managing estimated time of restoration, especially during major service outage events.
• A coordinating discussion with Emergency Support Function 1 — Transportation primary and support agencies on the subject of closure and/or restrictions of certain vehicles on state roads during weather events, including a discussion of parameters of potential waivers, including hours of service waivers.
• While outside the jurisdiction of the commission, the PUC’s Bureau of Technical Utility Services recommends electric companies consider approaching the Pennsylvania Legislature for possible relief that will grant utility companies the authority to remove or trim danger trees that are off their existing right of way. Such relief could be the ability to establish a wider right of way or allow utilities the authority to trim or remove trees that can potentially fall onto power conductors.
• Work with local and county authorities on proactive measures to identify and remove off-right of way danger trees that can fall in to roads. Electric companies should also work with those same entities on ensuring the proper species of trees are planted within 60 feet of primary electrical conductors.
• Consult with experts on climate, in particular the climate of Pennsylvania and the northeast, in order to understand the expected and/or potential impacts to utility infrastructure due to ongoing and projected climate changes.
• Consider storm hardening and climate adaptation as programs to be addressed through modified or future long-term infrastructure improvement plans.
• Electric companies that do not currently have long-term infrastructure improvement plans, such as Pike County Light & Power, should consider the potential benefits to having one.
The following practices will be implemented for future emergency events:
• PUC agency representatives will ask electric company representatives to report the counties that have active liaisons deployed within the outage reports.
• After 24 hours have passed from the onset of a weather disaster, PUC representatives will poll the applicable PEMA regional offices for any coordination issues that impacted counties may be having with jurisdictional utilities.
• The PUC’s Bureau of Technical Utility Services will request the electric companies’ storm damage model predictions before potential high impact events, such as Riley.
• The PUC’s Bureau of Technical Utility Services will request a summary of the lessons learned from each electric company in regard to the EDCs’ after-action reviews.