Agreement resolves complaints about Tropical Storm Isaias response
Central Hudson Gas & Electric is one of four utilities agreeing to an $86 million settlement with New York State to resolve charges that they failed to prepare for and adequately respond to large-scale power outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias last year.
Central Hudson, whose customers include residences and businesses in Dutchess and Putnam counties, will set aside $1.5 million in shareholder funds to be used for trimming trees, clearing lines and the staging of mutual aid for restoring service after storms under an agreement with the Public Service Commission, said the state on Thursday (July 15).
The PSC has spent nearly a year investigating the performance of electricity and cable providers after nearly 900,000 of their customers lost service when Isaias hit the Mid-Hudson, New York City and Long Island on Aug. 4, 2020.
Con Edison and Orange & Rockland Utilities settled for a combined $82 million, a total that also includes penalties for their response to outages in Brooklyn and Manhattan in 2019 and a steam outage in 2018, according to the state. Con Edison and O&R’s compensation will be paid in various forms, including forgoing money owed by customers. Frontier Communications, which provides cable and internet service in Orange County, settled for $2.5 million for its Isaias response.
The state earlier reached a $72 million settlement with Altice USA, which provides cable and internet service under the Optimum brand.
“The size of these settlements should make it abundantly clear that New York utilities are obligated to prepare for severe weather and to develop robust emergency response programs,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
It was Cuomo who ordered, the day after Isaias, that the state Department of Public Service investigate utility companies whose customers lost service. The DPS is the parent agency of the Public Service Commission.
In separate “notice of apparent violations” letters dated Aug. 19, 2020, the department said its review had found that Central Hudson and Altice had violated state law and Public Service Commission orders by failing to have enough personnel and equipment to restore service to customers after sustained 40-mph winds and 70-mph gusts inflicted heavy damage on utility poles and power lines and conductors in the Highlands.
Nearly 117,000 Central Hudson customers, including about 44,000 in Dutchess and 36,000 in Putnam, lost power. Central Hudson’s website was also down for more than eight hours between Aug. 4 and 5, leaving customers unable to report outages or get information on restoration estimates, according to the state.
Altice was also accused of not having enough workers to restore cable TV and internet service to 400,000 customers and of waiting six days after the storm to begin a “coordinated outreach” to local officials.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said in August 2020 that, two weeks after Isaias, the county was still notifying Altice of outages “they seemed to know nothing about.” He called the company’s performance after the storm “the worst I’ve seen in my 25 years of service.”
On the day of the storm, Central Hudson requested 200 line-workers from the North Atlantic Mutual Assistance Group, a consortium of 21 utilities in 21 states, four Canadian provinces and Washington, D.C. After the group sent only 16, Central Hudson should have pursued “any means possible, including additional contractor personnel,” to get more workers, the state said.
After the storm, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell praised the response by state, county and local officials, but said Central Hudson and New York State Electric and Gas Corp. (NYSEG), which serves eastern Putnam, took “far too long” to restore power. In addition to Central Hudson’s outages, 90 percent of NYSEG’s 39,000 customers in Putnam lost power, she said on Aug. 12, 2020.
“The utilities were not prepared and that is just not acceptable,” Odell said. “Not having access to a reliable power source is more than an inconvenience. For many, it is a matter of life-and-death.”
In all, the state reached Isaias settlements with the utilities totaling $190 million, according to Cuomo. The utilities also agreed to develop better response plans and improve their coordination with local governments, he said.