Pennsylvania PUC files complaint against West Penn Power stemming from death of woman by fallen power line

Pennsylvania regulators have filed a complaint against West Penn Power formerly d/b/a Allegheny Energy alleging violations of the public utility code stemming from a woman’s death involving a fallen power line.

According to the state Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) May 30 complaint, on June 2, 2009, West Penn Power’s 7,200-volt power line fell from its pole into the yard of Carrie Goretzka in Irwin, Penn.

Goretzka came into contact with the live wire in her yard, the PUC said, adding that she suffered burns on 85% of her body and died from her injuries on June 5, 2009.

The PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement is seeking relief, including that West Penn Power pay a civil penalty of up to $86,000 for the violations alleged up to May 31, and up to $1,000 per day for each day that the company continues to fail to provide certain information requested by PUC staff.

Furthermore, the company should modify its training program so that its employees are properly trained in conductor, splice and connections installations in accordance with the company’s transmission and distribution construction (T&D) standards and the manufacturer’s instructions.

Among other things, the bureau called for the company to begin immediately a program to inspect and replace any and all other lines containing automatic splices for signs of excessive heat or other signs of potential failure, preferably using infrared. Such program should be completed in a year and West Penn Power should immediately replace any splices that are found to be overheating or otherwise in danger of failure.

According to the PUC, on June 4, 2009, PUC staff contacted the company, requesting that the utility file its final internal investigation report of the incident to the PUC’s Bureau of Fixed Utilities. In November 2009, PUC staff again contacted the company regarding the status of the internal investigation report and the company said it was still in the process of conducting its investigation, which it expected to be complete in six to nine months.

The PUC also said that on April 28, 2010, PUC staff contacted the company and requested that it provide certain information, including the experts involved with evaluating the cause of the line that fell.

On April 29, the company provided a memo to PUC staff, confirming and identifying the experts that it had retained to perform testing and the work that the experts were asked to perform. The company said additional testing was to take place in early June 2010 and that it would inform PUC staff when that report was generated.

In February 2012, PUC staff contacted the company, reiterating demands for the information so that PUC staff could complete its investigation. The PUC also said that in March, PUC staff contacted the company for the fifth time, demanding that it provide the information that PUC staff requested within 14 days. To date, the PUC said, the company has not complied with PUC staff’s information requests.

Attorney Shanin Specter, who represents Goretzka’s family, told TransmissionHub June 7 that the PUC’s complaint is a step forward. “I think that West Penn [Power’s] failure to fix this problem is outrageous as is their failure to comply with the law and turn over their investigative reports to the PUC.”

A spokesperson for FirstEnergy (NYSE:FE), which completed its merger with Allegheny Energy in February 2011, told TransmissionHub June 7 that West Penn Power has received the complaint from the PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, adding, “We will respond to that complaint after reviewing it.”

A PUC spokesperson told TransmissionHub June 7 that the company now has 20 days to respond.

The complaint will then be assigned to a PUC administrative law judge, who will hold various hearings and issue a decision. Parties can then submit comments on the decision as well as reply comments, she added, noting that the final decision will be made by the five commissioners at one of the regularly scheduled public meetings.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3206 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.