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NYS reaches largest-ever settlement with NYSEG, RG&E over storm response

Eileen Buckley
The first of big storms arrived in March 2018.

New York State has reached a $10.5 million settlement with two upstate utilities, New York State Electric & Gas Corp. and Rochester Gas & Electric Corp. It is the largest ever in New York State for a utility failing to follow procedures related to an emergency response.

The settlement comes from what Gov. Andrew Cuomo described as the companies’ failure to adequately prepare for and restore service after storms in 2018 swept through their service territories and left more than 300,000 homes and businesses without power.

"It is beyond unacceptable to leave hundreds of thousands of customers in the dark for as long as these utilities did last year," Cuomo said Thursday. "This settlement makes crystal clear that utilities in New York have an obligation to prepare for severe weather and to develop robust storm response programs, and if they fail to adequately do that job we will hold them accountable and force them to change how they do business."

As part of the settlement, NYSEG acknowledges and admits to 18 violations of its state-approved emergency response plans, while RG&E acknowledges and admits three violations.

A consent order will require the two utilities to develop a more robust storm response program, enhance communication and coordination with municipal and county governments, and strengthen support for people on life-saving equipment.

To compensate customers, company shareholders will pay $9 million from NYSEG and $1.5 million from RG&E. The money will be used to provide customer benefits at the direction of the Public Service Commission.

Cuomo said the settlement money will be used to pay for things like replacing power poles that have structural deficiencies and upgrading circuits to minimize outage impact.

The two utilities, both part of the corporation Avangrid, said that last year, NYSEG and RG&E saw their services impacted by powerful storms in March, April and May, causing substantial damage to the electric delivery system. Spokesman Michael Jamison said NYSEG and RG&E were the only utilities serving the state that experienced damage as a result of all five weather events.

“We have thoroughly reviewed our processes, identified best practices, listened to our customers, federal and state officials and municipal leaders, and implemented enhanced emergency response procedures," Jamison said. "We also worked collaboratively with the Department of Public Service staff to reach a settlement that is in the best interest of our customers and communities.”

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.