New York City voices concerns with utilities’ comments on draft scorecard to assess outage response

The City of New York told New York state regulators that recommendations by a coalition of investor-owned utilities (IOUs) on the revised draft scorecard aimed to serve as a guidance tool with which to assess each utility’s restoration after significant outages “would diminish the value and effectiveness of the scorecard.”

The state Public Service Commission (PSC) asked for comments by Sept. 19 on the draft scorecard, which was developed in the context of newly enacted changes to the Public Service Law that requires increased PSC oversight of utility emergency response plans and gives the PSC authority to assess civil penalties against utilities.

In Oct. 4 comments, the City of New York noted that it and the coalition of IOUs, or the “joint utilities,” separately filed on Sept. 19 comments on the revised scorecard.

The joint utilities are Central Hudson Gas & Electric, New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG), Rochester Gas and Electric (RG&E), Niagara Mohawk d/b/a National Grid plc subsidiary National Grid USA, and Consolidated Edison subsidiaries Consolidated Edison Company of New York and Orange and Rockland (O&R).

The city said that the joint utilities recommended extensive changes to the revised scorecard that, if adopted as proposed, would diminish the value and effectiveness of the scorecard and ensure that it falls short of becoming the tool that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo envisioned when he directed the PSC to develop and implement it.

The city addressed four issues raised in the joint utilities’ Sept. 19 comments, including their recommendation that inconsistencies between their emergency response plans (ERPs) and the scorecard should be harmonized.

The city said it generally agrees that the ERPs and scorecard should establish consistent standards that provide clear guidance as to how the utilities are expected to prepare for, and respond to, extended service outages and other emergencies.

However, the PSC should not adopt a “least common denominator” approach whereby the standard adopted is the less stringent of the scorecard or the ERPs.

Also, the joint utilities claim that their proposals are intended to clarify the scorecard, and to replace purportedly subjective standards with objective and quantifiable metrics. However, the city added, the joint utilities’ recommendation would result in establishing a “check the box” approach to the scorecard whereby a utility may earn points by satisfying objective criteria even if the subjective quality of its actions were unsatisfactory.

For example, the joint utilities recommend that the “municipal conference calls measure” exclude a subjective evaluation of how effective those communications are, the city said. 

In their Sept. 19 comments, the utilities said they propose eliminating the assessments of “highly effective” and “effective,” noting that performance should be assessed on whether the joint utilities complied with the requirements of the measure absent any subjective assessment.

The city disagreed with the recommendation.

“The utilities’ performance on this metric should be judged on the basis of whether the calls were effective (e.g., included sufficient time for questions and answers, presented relevant information in a clear and concise manner), as well as on the basis of whether all necessary elements specified in the scorecard were included on the call,” the city said. “Absent the reasonable balancing of objective and subjective criteria, a utility could claim that it earned all points under this metric even if the actual quality and/or content of its municipal calls are poor.”

A third issue the city addressed is the joint utilities’ argument that scorecard review should not include actions proposed under the preparation category for all events preceded by “limited warnings.”

That proposal should be rejected, the city said, adding that meteorological technology ensures that there will be some period of advance warning before virtually every weather event that may occur.

The short- and long-term actions that a utility undertakes to prepare for a significant outage should be evaluated regardless of how much notice arguably is received in advance of a weather-related event, the city said.

The fourth issue is that the joint utilities recommend that the definition of “outage duration,” which is defined in the scorecard as “[t]he time period between the start of the event and customer restoration for all customers affected by the storm,” be revised such that an “outage duration” is measured as the period between the start of utility restoration efforts and the completion of customer restoration. That is, the city added, the joint utilities propose to measure the duration of an outage only with respect to how long the utility actively is working to restore service.

“This definition is consistent with current operational practice and also best supports employee safety, as it takes into account the time when crews can safely proceed,” the joint utilities said in their comments.

The city said that proposal should be rejected, adding that the definition included in the revised scorecard captures the plain meaning of those terms and is reasonable. 

“It is highly unlikely that any customer would consider an outage to have begun only when the utility commences its effort to restore service,” the city said. “The proposed change would make it easier for utilities to satisfy certain elements of the scorecard, but it would not reflect the true extent of the interruption, or the impact of same on customers.”

City’s Sept. 19 revised comments

In its Sept. 19 revised comments, the city recommended that the PSC adopt a three-pronged approach to reflect that utility responses to some service outages should be reviewed under the scorecard even if a specific temporal threshold is not satisfied.

The significance of a service outage is not necessarily determined only by its duration, the city said, adding that it proposes two additional “prongs” that should also trigger scorecard review if satisfied: service is interrupted to 2.5% or more of customers within an operating area, regardless of duration; and service is interrupted to 1% or more of customers in an operating area for at least 12 hours.

Among other things, the city said that under no circumstances should the PSC affirm that the scorecard will be applied only to the longest outages that may occur, given that widespread outages of shorter duration can have material adverse effects on the public.

Joint utilities’ Sept. 19 comments

In their comments, the joint utilities said the measures and, in particular, the criterion on which performance will be evaluated, should be based on the requirements of the individual utility’s PSC-approved electric emergency plan. “Substantial time and effort has been invested by the utilities to create emergency plans that are intended to guide the utilities’ emergency response.

In some instances, the scorecard and guide contain measures and measurement criterion that do not align with the approved electric emergency plans. For example, the joint utilities added, the “event anticipation” performance measure requires preparation activities to begin following a weather alert. Recently approved plans, however, do not require an alert as the trigger for preparatory activities in response to a potential emergency.

The PSC has said that the scorecard “represents an effort to establish standards that will promote effective emergency response,” the joint utilities said, later adding, “Measuring against a different standard would result in confusion, may hinder critical storm response activities and compromise safety, increase costs to customers, and would conflict with the Public Service Law.”

Central Hudson’s holding company is CH Energy Group (NYSE:CHG). NYSEG and RG&E are subsidiaries of Iberdrola USA, which is a subsidiary of Iberdrola S.A.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3153 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.