LI officials praise PSEG storm response

Long Islanders began digging out of the first snowstorm of 2014, which as of Friday morning dropped as much as a foot of snow in Suffolk County, with 12 inches in North Babylon, 11.5 in Bay Shore and 11 in Eastport, meteorologist said. Nassau's hardest-hit hamlet was Oceanside with 11 inches, followed by Massapequa at 10.1 and Plainview with 10. Videojournalists: Newsday Staff (Jan. 3, 2014)

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Elected leaders praised PSEG Friday for its response to the first major storm since the company took over the local electrical grid, citing communication as the key improvement over the maligned Long Island Power Authority.

"With LIPA, it was pretty much a bunker mentality," said Babylon Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer, who clashed with the public utility after superstorm Sandy in October 2012. "You had to find them, as opposed to PSEG. They're about getting in touch with us."

The storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on parts of the region late Thursday and early Friday -- less than two days after PSEG took control of the power system -- didn't strain the utility as much as it had planned for, officials said. Not all of the 2,200 workers and 1,000 utility vehicles it had on call were needed.

At its peak, between 2 and 3 a.m. Friday, the storm caused 822 power outages, about 600 of which were clustered in North Woodmere and restored in less than 10 minutes. That block of customers had been intentionally taken offline to trim a damaged tree branch that could have caused further problems, PSEG Long Island president David Daly said in an interview Friday.

From then on, outages across Long Island hovered between a handful and several dozen, according to PSEG data. The utility said it will keep its storm management plan in place Saturday because extremely cold temperatures will remain.

"I would assess our performance as solid," Daly said. "We executed well, and from my point of view, as the first storm since coming on, I could see the passion and commitment from the employees, particularly on the communication end."

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PSEG Long Island, a subsidiary of New Jersey-based PSEG, had prepared to manage the local grid for two years, since winning the LIPA contract to succeed National Grid. But after outcry over LIPA's response to Sandy, which left thousands in the dark for weeks, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed to give PSEG near-total control of the utility.

PSEG said that it has spent $31 million to speed response times. It also designated liaisons to most local municipalities before this week's storm.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said PSEG was in constant communication with his staff, hosting frequent municipal conference calls.

"They were clearly prepared because we did not experience many outages," Mangano said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, another LIPA critic, said PSEG was not only easier to reach, but also more specific in its communications. He cited the company's explanations of what different wind levels could mean in terms of power outages, and their checks of local substations.

"In the past, the communications we'd get were almost formulaic," Bellone said. "These kinds of things are harder to fudge. I think they passed their first test with flying colors."

With Robert Brodsky

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