New York regulators: General reliability of electric system in 2017 improved, but major storms continue to challenge utilities

The New York State Public Service Commission on June 14 said that excluding major storms, the general reliability of the state’s electric system in 2017 improved from 2016, but major storms continue to provide a challenge for New York’s utilities.

The commission said that last year saw almost twice as many hours of outages than 2016, driven in large part by the March 2017 windstorm that swept the Finger Lakes and western New York.

As noted on the commission’s website, the New York State Department of Public Service (DPS) staff, Orange and Rockland Utilities, New York State Electric & Gas, Rochester Gas and Electric, Niagara Mohawk Power, and Central Hudson Gas & Electric submitted reports to the commission.

The commission said in its statement that the annual reports presented on June 14 measure utility performance in such key services areas as:

  • Electric reliability – Each year, DPS staff performs a detailed analysis of electric reliability performance. To gauge reliability performance, staff evaluates two primary components: the frequency of service interruptions and the duration of those interruptions. Excluding major storms, the electric system statewide interruption frequency is consistent with the statewide five-year average. Roughly one in three outages were due to contacts between trees and power lines, largely from limbs and trees from outside the clearance zone falling due to failure, disease, or weather conditions. Given the significant weather events that have already occurred in 2018, including the winter storms in early March and the high-wind event on May 15, DPS staff expects the customer outages including major storms will be higher in next year’s report
  • Electric Safety: New York utilities in 2017 were in compliance with electric safety standards, which were established in 2005 to safeguard the public from exposure to stray voltage, as well as to identify and eliminate potentially harmful conditions before serious safety hazards and/or reliability deficiencies develop. In 2017, the total number of stray-voltage testing findings continues a downward trend from previous years. Utilities are also required to complete visual inspections on 20% of their facilities each year, so that all of the utility’s transmission and distribution facilities will be inspected at least once every five years. All utilities are in compliance with the inspection requirement, with about 700,000 facilities visually inspected in 2017
  • Gas Safety: DPS staff evaluated critical areas of gas safety, including damage prevention, emergency response times, leak management, and non-compliances identified through staff’s audit process. Overall, the data indicates that performance has substantially improved for the state’s local distribution companies (LDCs). The damage prevention measure gauges the success of LDCs in minimizing damage to buried natural gas facilities caused by excavation activities. The total damage prevention measure improved – about 23% – from the previous year. The emergency response time measure reflects the LDCs’ ability to respond promptly to reports of leak, odor, and emergency notifications. The overall year-end 2017 leak backlog was higher by seven repairable leaks when compared to 2016, but is down about 40% when compared to 2013. For total leak backlogs, which includes non-hazardous leaks, the overall year-end 2017 backlog total fell by 2,354 leaks, about 14% from year-end 2016, and is also down 40% when compared to 2013. As companies continue their outreach efforts, adopt better practices in responding to leak, odor, and emergency notifications, as well as work to replace aging leak prone infrastructure, DPS staff expects further improvements will occur

For instance, in its “2017 Electric Reliability Performance Report,” DPS staff noted that with respect to major storms, 2017 had more customer hours of interruption when including major storms than 2016. Combined, the electric utilities experienced 73 major storm events in 2017, about 11% more events than 2016, staff said.

Among other things, staff noted that the March 8, 2017 windstorm caused the majority of storm-related outages during 2017 affecting RG&E, NYSEG, and National Grid performances, staff said. Sustained winds of 50 miles to 70 miles per hour uprooted and snapped trees, which in turn caused significant damage to the electric infrastructure, according to staff.

NYSEG, RG&E, and National Grid reported that more than 250,000 customers experienced a loss of power during the windstorm, with peak outages of about 123,000 and 48,000 for RG&E and NYSEG, respectively, staff said. Restoration took until March 13, 2017, for NYSEG and March 15, 2017, for RG&E, staff said, adding that customer outages for National Grid peaked at 113,000, with complete restoration accomplished on March 12, 2017.

Staff said that because of the extended length of restoration and deficiencies observed at the time of the event, staff initiated an investigation, which found that in several instances, NYSEG and RG&E did not follow their emergency response plan. Staff noted that findings and recommendations of its investigation are in a document titled “March 2017 Windstorm: A Report on NYSEG and RG&E Electric Restoration and Communication Efforts.”

Last November, staff said, the commission issued an order instituting a proceeding and to show cause as to why the commission should not commence an administrative penalty action for violations of commission order and regulations. As a result of that order, NYSEG and RG&E propose in a joint proposal to the commission to address the 12 alleged violations for improperly responding to the windstorm that occurred on March 8, 2017, staff said, adding that as proposed, the companies would settle the matters for a total of $3.9m.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3233 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.