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LIPA customers face 'considerable risk' as storm season nears, LIPA says

PSEG workers survey damage after Tropical Storm Isaias

PSEG workers survey damage after Tropical Storm Isaias in August, which left more than 535,000 customers unable to communicate with the utility. Credit: James Carbone

LIPA on Wednesday said its customers face "considerable risk" as storm season approaches after finding PSEG Long Island "still does not have a fully tested" storm-outage management and communication systems in place.

PSEG said its systems have undergone rigorous upgrades, tuning and "numerous tests," and are "ready for storm season." But LIPA, in a report released Wednesday to its board of trustees, said it "disagrees," and wants PSEG, which operates the Long Island grid under an $80 million-a-year contract, to "conduct another [comprehensive] test" of all the systems at once, during regular business hours.

Newsday has reported for months about the tension between LIPA and PSEG following PSEG's failed response to the storm including revelations that PSEG knew about problems before the storm.

What to know 

  • LIPA and PSEG continue to disagree over just how prepared PSEG systems are for the coming storm season.
  • LIPA says PSEG’s tests of computer and communication systems show continuing problems.
  • PSEG says its systems are ready for the summer storm season and there won’t be a repeat of Isaias.
  • PSEG has spent more than $9 million fixing the systems.
  • LIPA continues to consider terminating PSEG’s contract and hiring a replacement or taking over itself.

PSEG’s computer and telecom systems failed during Tropical Storm Isaias in August, leaving more than 535,000 customers unable to communicate with the utility, and waiting for power restoration for up to eight days. PSEG has spent more than $9.5 million to fix the systems. LIPA is considering terminating its PSEG contract and either hiring an outside entity to replace it or taking on the work itself as a fully municipal entity. On Wednesday, it issued a request for information to determine the level of interest from prospective outside companies who could take over the contract, or parts of it.

In the report issued to LIPA’s board, LIPA’s task force on Tropical Storm Isaias said recent tests of the computer and communication systems showed improvement but they were not to its satisfaction. PSEG is spending $3 million a month to get the systems ready, LIPA reported, but shortfalls remain.

Risks not mitigated, LIPA says

"LIPA is concerned that there remains considerable risk to customers that has not been mitigated," the report says. A new version of the computer system that failed in August won’t be introduced until after the upcoming storm season, the report says. The older version of the system that PSEG has resorted to is "no longer vendor supported and has more limited capabilities" than the newer version, LIPA said.

Separately Wednesday, LIPA announced its board chairman Ralph Suozzi, an appointee of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is stepping down after eight years. Vice chairman Mark Fischl will take on the chairman's role on an acting basis.

During the meeting, Fischl told PSEG Long Island chief operating officer Dan Eichhorn, "I'm a little distressed to hear the [outage management system] still isn't meeting LIPA's expectations. We're almost nine months removed from Isaias and storm season is coming again like a proverbial freight train. Do you guys have a workaround? Because I don't want to sit here and do this again." Storm season starts in a few weeks.

PSEG: System 'greatly improved'

Eichhorn said the system is "greatly improved from what we've seen before" during Isaias, adding, "If we went into a storm with the system we have now we'd be able to operate, customers would be able to get through to us."

"There’s been tremendous improvement," Eichhorn said. "There’s things we have identified that we want to make better. And we think we have the solutions for them." He added, "If we have another Isaias, our system is ready for it."

LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone noted, "Of course we're in a better spot, we've spent a tremendous amount of time and money, but that doesn't mean it's acceptable." He added, "A system can be better than it was last year but still not be acceptable."

PSEG spokeswoman Ashley Chauvin said the newer version of the outage computer system "will not go into production until it has been thoroughly tested and when the timing is appropriate."

LIPA seeks 'daytime stress test'

Tests of the existing computer and communication systems in April found certain systems didn’t meet LIPA's standards for success, although PSEG’s standard of "no more than 4% failure rate" was apparently met, LIPA said. . PSEG also conducted the tests off hours, LIPA noted, and it has requested a "daytime stress test" to simulate "real-life scenarios," including calls during regular business hours.

Tests showed a "noticeable slowness" in the outage management incident manager, and outage map updates, while other systems such as mobile channels "did not meet success criteria," LIPA said. The interactive voice response error rate "also exceeded the threshold during the first hour of the test."

"Based on the test scenarios it would take an excess of 12 hours for an outage reported via one of the channels to be entered into the outage management system," LIPA’s task force found. "This is clearly not an acceptable user experience."

LIPA said it found PSEG’s presentation of test results on the whole "does not include the various failures which LIPA representatives observed and recorded during the test." Chauvin said the current outage management system "as well as our digital channels [including telephone systems] have undergone upgrades, performance tuning and numerous tests, and are ready for storm season."

LIPA in the report isn’t just taking issue with PSEG’s computer systems. It said PSEG’s technical team "continues to lack key skill sets," while project management by PSEG "continues to be weak."

"PSEG Long Island has been reluctant to accept the technical recommendations of LIPA’s [task force] and consultants," the report says.

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