THE MAGAZINE

Keeping the Lights On

By Teresa Anderson

This was borne out by statistics on those lines that were already underground before the storm hit. For example, 100 percent of the underground substation supply lines remained operational during the storm. For above ground lines, the success rate ranged from 7 percent to 64 percent depending on the utility in question.

Another recommendation involves tree trimming. Such “vegetation management” issues involve several state and local agencies as well as individual homeowners. The expense and who should bear it can be an issue, and the choice of what to trim and how extensively can be controversial. The task force calls on state officials to align state and local laws, regulations, and ordinances. It also recommends studying property and contract law to determine how to help utilities better address the issue.

The task force included recommendations for how regulators or legislators might provide better financial tools that can help utilities undertake the expenditures necessary to improve resiliency. For example, one recommendation was for the state to issue regulations to allow utilities to treat these expenditures differently through a “tracker cost recovery mechanism.” Such a mechanism, implemented through regulation, would allow utilities to recoup losses more quickly.

Another recommendation was to pass laws or implement regulations that would allow utilities to align utility rates with steps taken to improve resiliency—in other words, to let utilities raise rates if they could demonstrate that they had implemented resiliency measures. Such a system would be dependent on gathering reliable metrics, warned the task force, but could be used to reward utilities that take steps to improve resiliency and penalize those that are slow to act.

Planning
 

The task force also had several recommendations on planning to help mitigate the damage that could be caused by future disasters. One recommendation was for utilities to conduct annual disaster drills with state and local emergency management agencies.

This recommendation came directly from the requests of the task force participants. The report says: “Throughout the roundtable discussions, the parties consistently emphasized the need for collaboration, information sharing, and relationship building between various parties, with special emphasis on that between the local emergency management agency and its utility.”
 

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