Obama, utility execs discuss Hurricane Sandy response, reducing red tape

Finding opportunities to reduce red tape was a common theme at a May 8 meeting between President Barack Obama and various electric industry officials, according to Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell. 

“We met with an intense focus on how we can prepare together and execute together to get customers’ power restored much faster after major storms,” Powell told TransmissionHub on May 10. “Finding opportunities to reduce red tape was a common theme at the meeting, and there are many ways that could be helpful, such as expediting bringing additional crews across the border. We are hopeful that we have started an effort to work creatively to benefit customers across the country.”

Obama and senior members of his response team met with electric utility executives and trade association representatives at the U.S. Department of Energy to discuss lessons learned during the response to Hurricane Sandy, as well as discuss ongoing preparations for the 2013 hurricane season, which begins on June 1, according to a May 8 statement from the White House.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., in October 2012 as a post-tropical cyclone.

Obama thanked the executives for their efforts during the response to Hurricane Sandy and noted the strong working relationship shown between industry and the federal government as companies worked to restore power to millions of customers in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including the resources and personnel shared to assist those efforts by various companies that were outside of the affected region, according to the statement.

The president also said that in the wake of such major disasters as Hurricane Sandy, extended power outages can have major impacts on communities and recovery efforts, and that beyond the lifesaving and life sustaining efforts, which are the immediate priority in any response, one of the most important steps is power restoration, the statement noted.

Utility executives discussed lessons learned during the Hurricane Sandy response that the industry and the federal government can apply to large power restoration efforts in the future. Obama made clear that his administration is committed to working closely with industry on suggestions that could further improve future response efforts, the statement added.

The meeting came on the heels of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s May 7 announcement that the U.S. Department of the Interior is releasing $475.3m in emergency Hurricane Sandy disaster relief appropriations to 234 projects that will repair and rebuild parks, refuges and other Interior assets damaged by the storm.

The funding will also provide investments in scientific data and studies to support recovery in the region, as well as historic preservation efforts.

Another meeting participant, Lee Olivier, executive vice president and COO of Northeast Utilities (NYSE:NU), the parent company of NSTAR, told TransmissionHub on May 10: “The meeting was very constructive and a great example of the partnership that has been established between the nation’s electric utilities, the Department of Energy and other federal agencies. The president deserves great credit for his leadership on this issue.”

A New York Power Authority (NYPA) spokesperson told TransmissionHub on May 10 that NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones was among the utility executives at the meeting. 

Before Obama joined in the meeting, Quiniones read a letter of appreciation that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had sent to various utilities that provided mutual assistance following the hurricane, in dispatching skilled utility line workers, tree trimmers and equipment to storm-ravaged areas of the state.

In the Jan. 29 letter, of which TransmissionHub obtained a copy, Cuomo noted that the storm caused damage of “unprecedented proportions” and the state’s response required a level of cooperation and effort equal to the enormous task at hand.

“The governor’s letter cited the personal sacrifices of the restoration crews and strength of New Yorkers to overcome great challenges and to help neighbors in need,” the spokesperson said.

Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) President and COO Ralph LaRossa, also attended the meeting and “emphasized the need for investments that would harden our electric and gas systems to better withstand the kind of severe weather we have been experiencing with greater frequency,” a company spokesperson told TransmissionHub on May 10.

PSE&G’s Energy Strong program, filed in February with New Jersey state regulators, would protect electrical switching and substations, as well as gas metering and regulating stations from storm surges and excessive rainfall, among other improvements.

“In addition to Energy Strong, [LaRossa] also stressed the need for closer coordination with other key infrastructure segments,” the spokesperson added. “For example, he will be discussing Sandy’s aftermath with members of the petroleum industry during an annual conference in Houston next month.”

PSE&G is the largest subsidiary of Public Service Enterprise Group (NYSE:PEG).

Also in attendance, as noted in Obama’s statement, was Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED) Chairman, President and CEO Kevin Burke.

“The meeting was a general discussion about the lessons utility companies, the federal government and other parties can take from Hurricane Sandy,” a company spokesperson told TransmissionHub on May 10. “The utility executives thanked the president for the unprecedented level of support the federal government provided in the aftermath of the storm. That support was invaluable in helping us to get service restored to our customers.”

Pepco Holdings (NYSE:POM) President, Chairman and CEO Joseph Rigby said in a May 10 statement provided to TransmissionHub that the meeting allowed for a “very productive exchange between and the administration and the industry during which President Obama reiterated the federal government’s commitment to bring federal resources to bear in emergency situations.”

Rigby said Obama acknowledged the utilities’ roles as first responders.

“We discussed the benefits of utilities providing mutual assistance during major events and the administration’s willingness to help facilitate the transport of supplies and resources to aid in the recovery and restoration process,” Rigby said. “The utilities and the administration will continue to look for practical ways to streamline these efforts. I felt the day was a positive experience for everyone in attendance and ultimately will benefit our customers.”

The meeting reinforced the public-private coordination and dialogue that developed during Hurricane Sandy, American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP) President and CEO Nick Akins told TransmissionHub on May 10.

“The level of support and commitment that we’ve received from this administration has been very positive,” he said. “President Obama reiterated his commitment to work with our industry and address any issues that impede our ability to respond quickly to events that disrupt electrical service on a large scale.”

He added: “We’re focused on the lessons we learned from Hurricane Sandy. Many of those lessons involve improving the logistics of response – expediting the movement of materials, equipment and crews.”

Akins also said that the administration has committed to expediting waivers that allow utility trucks to cross state lines without stopping at weigh and toll stations and designating utility crews as first responders.

“On the industry side, we are evaluating our mutual assistance programs to ensure that we can respond as effectively on a national level as we have regionally in the past,” he said.

National Grid USA President, Tom King, also attended, a company spokesperson told TransmissionHub on May 10.

King discussed the critical and successful role that the federal government played in the response to the hurricane, “our learning from that experience and our desire to continue further develop the response actions. Other discussion points include National Grid’s commitment to storm hardening, resiliency and emergency preparedness.”

National Grid is a subsidiary of National Grid plc.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.