Press-Republican

February 18, 2013

Response to Wilmington power outage criticized

LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

WILMINGTON — Officials are criticizing what they say was a distressing lack of information from New York State Electric and Gas when a windstorm recently knocked out power to 750 homes in the Town of Wilmington.

The Jan. 31 storm destroyed property, uprooted trees and took down power lines in his community, Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) told the County Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I could not get answers out of NYSEG (about power restoration). The only answer I could get was the same answer everyone else got — noon tomorrow. We bought food. We were putting shelters in place. Then, within 30 minutes (of the last call to NYSEG) homes were coming back on.”

‘TAXED ABILITIES’

In response to a Press-Republican query about the handling of the outage, NYSEG Communications Manager Clayton Ellis said by email Wednesday that the storm was a severe one that affected many parts of their infrastructure in the counties they serve and taxed their ability to respond quickly.

“At first, we were keeping up with the damage and restoring power to customers, but we soon had to shift our efforts solely to responding to downed wires incidents across the region to ensure public safety. Once our crews in Wilmington made all known downed-wires incidents safe, and as they were preparing to travel elsewhere to assist with other downed wires incidents, we identified one issue affecting the 750 customers in Wilmington and directed a nearby crew to make repairs before moving on to other ‘make safe’ efforts.

“So, while our initial estimated time of restoration for those customers was noon on Friday, Feb. 1, we were able to restore service at approximately 4 p.m. on Thursday, just about four hours after the outage occurred,” he continued.

‘CHANGING CONDITIONS’

Ellis said the storm brought 50-mph winds with it that put 10,000 customers out of power across their service area.

“Our employees who were in contact with Supervisor Preston provided the best information they had very early in the storm. At the time, winds were continuing to cause damage to our system, and our response was being adjusted accordingly. Under these changing conditions, it is not possible to provide perfect information.”

INFORMATION GAP

Preston said the gap between the information he was getting and the actual work of the repair crews was enormous.

“Someone should be designated to give you accurate information. I am thoroughly disgusted with NYSEG and their lack of information.”

Preston said the Governor’s Office was notified of the situation and is looking into the issue.

“The answers I got from NYSEG were not even close to accurate,” Preston said. “You could get more by driving around on the street than these calls from NYSEG. The most accurate information I got was the (Wilmington) Volunteer Fire Department going door-to-door.”

ESTIMATES CHANGE

Supervisors Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) and Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva) said both NYSEG and the State Public Service Commission should be invited to a County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Preston said he’d welcome hearing from the utility about what happened.

“Their (NYSEG) crews were out there (during the blackout). The frustration was the communication part.”

Ellis said that estimated times of restoration often change as they receive more detailed information on the nature of damage to their system and determine how long it will take to repair it.

“This is particularly true early in a storm event. Also, we learned during Hurricane Sandy that our customers prefer worst-case estimated times of restoration rather than overly optimistic ones.”

NOT AS CUSTOMERS

Preston said they were not contacting NYSEG as customers, but as a municipality that needed accurate information to make important decisions affecting citizens who were without power or heat.

Ellis said they are talking with Preston about his concerns and expectations for communication during such events.

“During major storm events, our primary focus always has been, and will continue to be, ensuring public safety and then restoring service as quickly as possible,” he said. 

“We will also continue to dedicate considerable time and energy to communicating with elected officials.”

‘VERY GOOD PEOPLE’

Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said he has always had a cordial relationship with NYSEG.

“There are some very good people who work there. I’m sure we can work it out with them. 

“I think we can make better communications for us all.”

Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said he had the same problem 11 years ago with National Grid, and it was solved after they talked with the top leaders at that company.

“The turnaround was astronomical. They (National Grid) now call me at night with everything they know” about power outages.

Email Lohr McKinstry: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com