With its customer satisfaction score continuing to fall, PSEG Long Island is preparing for a crucial test of its outage response systems next week to determine if they are ready for the upcoming storm season.
The closely watched comprehensive test is a critical proving point for the systems and PSEG, after a major failure during Tropical Storm Isaias that saw more than 645,000 outages, some for more than a week. And it comes as LIPA is pondering several different future directions, including becoming a fully public utility or hiring another contractor to replace PSEG.
LIPA and PSEG remain in intense talks to renegotiate PSEG's contract to manage the electric grid; talks that will be extended into April, LIPA has said.
During a LIPA trustee meeting Monday, LIPA reported that PSEG’s most recent score on the JD Power customer satisfaction survey dropped for the third straight quarter, to 652 of a potential 1000 points. It has fallen for each of the three quarterly reports since Isaias.
In an interview before the trustees meeting, LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone expressed concern that some PSEG systems, including the core outage management computer system that is central to storm response, continued to experience problems that limit its ability to handle more than 150,000 outages at a time.
"The system can handle smaller storms, as it always could," Falcone said, "but above 150,000 [outages] is when it starts experience problems."
LIPA has been "insisting" on a comprehensive test of all interlocked systems, including the outage management and telecom systems "to see if systems hold up" when confronted with a flurry of calls and texts during the height of a storm. "You can't say it works until you do this end-to-end test," Falcone said. "Every time they've tested in segments, they've discovered more problems."
PSEG Long Island chief operating officer Dan Eichhorn said at the trustees meeting the company has been working to eliminate "pinch points" and "congestion issues" in the system that have cropped up during prior tests and are "being dealt with."
The end-to-end test is scheduled for April 7 — simulating the four peak hours of customer calls and texts that occurred during the storm.
"This will really give us that confidence that the quick burst, a whole bunch of customers calling us in a short period of time, that all of our systems when they're working together can handle that type of volume," Eichhorn said.
He said the test could help "identify other potential issues we're not aware of right now," to fix in advance of the summer storm season.
Trustee Sheldon Cohen noted that PSEG had previously announced plans to complete that comprehensive test in January, February and March, only to delay it, and asked, if there was "any concern it will be delayed again?"
Eichhorn said PSEG will continue to test "to identify those pinch points," in advance of the big test. "There's not too many other things that we think would go wrong."
But even as it tests fixes on the older version of the outage computer system, PSEG is working to load a new version of that software onto new computer hardware in preparation for a launch of that new platform in late May.
"If it doesn't pass the testing, if it's not operating as expected, we'll make a decision, while continuing to work on it, to hold off [implementation] until after the storm season," Eichhorn said.
Eichhorn said the company was "seeing some positives" in its internal customer surveys with customers, and saw increases in parts of the JD Power survey for reliability and customer service, despite the sharp drop in the overall JD Power score.
"We're very confident once we start getting back out there promoting a lot of the positives, promoting the different services, we're very confident we will be able to make a quick bump and get that customer satisfaction back up to where we saw it less than a year ago," Eichhorn said.
Falcone during the board meeting noted the nearly 100-point drop in PSEG's score from the pre-August high of 748, calling it "a big dip." PSEG has "a long way to go," Falcone said.