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NYSEG, RG&E facing millions in fines for March windstorm response

Eileen Buckley

The New York State Public Service Commission says it has completed its investigation into the windstorm in March that swept through the region and it has determined that NYSEG and RG&E had a poor response to storm restoration.

The PSC says that violated the companies’ own emergency response plan and as a result, the utilities are potentially face millions of dollars in fines.

“It is critically important that utilities adhere to our rules and regulations, even more so when the safety of New Yorkers is at stake,” said Commission Chair John Rhodes. “Given the findings, the Commission will now consider financial penalties on the companies for their apparent failure to follow Commission-approved emergency response plans.”

While Commission staff found NYSEG and RG&E performed adequately in some areas in terms of their storm response, the  investigation found several areas where the companies did not follow the Commission-approved guidelines. With those violations, the companies now face possible financial penalties totaling several million dollars that, if imposed, would be paid by shareholders.  

After the March 8 windstorm hit Western New York, the utilities reported peak outages of approximately 123,000 and 48,000 for RG&E and NYSEG, respectively.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the New York State Department of Public Service on March 11 to conduct an immediate investigation into the response to the windstorm from the two utilities.

The violations cited by the PSC are as follows:

  • Damage Assessment: RG&E’s required damage assessment did not start as early in the process as it should have
  • Downed Wires: Neither company was able to fully secure downed wires reported by municipal officials within the required 36-hour time period, which put public safety at risk
  • Restoration: The companies did not follow the requirement regarding keeping the public informed about restoration times, which created customer uncertainty
  • Life-Support: Although no one was harmed or died, the companies failed to properly coordinate communications with customers who are on life-support equipment
  • Critical Restorations: RG&E failed to create a priority list of critical facilities impacted — fire and police stations, etc. — to be used for determining restoration priorities
  • Phone Alerts: RG&E did not adequately update its automated voice messaging services to reflect the storm conditions; and
  • Call Center: RG&E’s call center was not staffed to the level prescribed in its emergency response plan.

The U.S. corporate parent for the two utilities, Avangrid, issued this statement in response to Thursday’s PSC findings:

Credit Alissa Orlando / WXXI News

"NYSEG and RG&E are reviewing the findings from the New York State Public Service Commission’s investigation into NYSEG and RG&E’s preparation for and response to the March 2017 windstorm and will respond as directed. The unprecedented weather that resulted in the March windstorm posed great challenges to our communities, employees, contractors, assisting utilities, and municipal partners who all worked tirelessly to safely restore power to all customers.  NYSEG and RG&E’s priorities during any storm are the restoration of service to our customers and the safety of our communities, customers, employees and contractors."

With the commission's report, the two utilities have to respond within 30 days to show why an administrative penalty proceeding should not be initiated and they also have to show how they will improve their storm management practices to make sure such mistakes are not repeated in the future.

Meantime, the PSC says that for National Grid - the other utility serving the region - areas around its Genesee, Frontier and Southwest divisions sustained damage from the windstorm, with the most damage in the Genesee division. The commission says that customer outages for National Grid peaked at 113,000 and complete restoration was accomplished on March 12.

PSC staff found that National Grid restored more than 90 percent of affected customers within 36 hours and is not subject to a penalty action.

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