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PSEG launching new power outage notification service

A PSEG worker repairs downed wires caused by

A PSEG worker repairs downed wires caused by strong winds on Grove Avenue in Patchogue on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. Credit: James Carbone

PSEG Long Island is launching a new service that will send alerts and updates to customers whose electric service is out — even if they didn’t call in an outage or sign up for alerts.

The plan is part of an effort by the company to better communicate with customers during times of service disruptions.

“We want to reduce customers’ level of effort in getting this information,” said Fred Daum, PSEG’s director of customer contact and billing. “It’s a step forward.”

PSEG will create an outage alert subscription base for all its customers using contact information ratepayers have provided in the past. Alerts will only be sent when there’s an outage or restoration affecting customers whose service is verified to be out. Customers can opt out of the service by clicking opt-out links and other methods that are included on the messages, which will come via text, email or voice.

PSEG said FCC rules allow the utility to send automated calls and texts for messages “closely related to the utility service,” but noted that research has shown proactive information about outages and restorations can help improve customer satisfaction. PSEG gets incentive compensation from LIPA for meeting customer satisfaction targets.

The new service wasn’t in effect this weekend when a storm knocked out service to more than 113,000 LIPA customers. (About 7,500 customers remained without power as of 11 a.m. Tuesday.)

One LIPA customer who signed up for alerts under a previous voluntary system suggested the utility needs to get a better handle on the status of repairs for the service to work correctly.

Larry Rubinstein of North Bellmore said his block experienced an outage on Sunday. After a truck came by to determine the problem was a malfunctioning transformer, he said he has received five separate text messages and three emails all stating the company had dispatched crews and service was expected to be restored at progressively later times.

But after the initial truck, no other crews had been by as of Tuesday morning, he said, and his service was still out at 11 a.m. He has called PSEG 10 times to complain, he said.

“I don’t mind getting voice mails and text messages if there’s truth to it,” Rubinstein said.

Daum said the new system, which cost $750,000 to implement, includes an algorithm that verifies customers who would be affected by an outage given factors such as which are on a circuit or transformer known to be out, and he said PSEG strives for accuracy in its notifications. The system includes a five- to 20-minute delay before an outage is detected to make certain the outage isn’t a “momentary” event that will be quickly restored.

After the initial outage alert, customers will receive updates when there’s an estimated restoration time that differs from the original by an hour or more, or when the cause of the outage has been noted. A final message will be sent when the outage has been restored.

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