Power lines along Ruland Road in Melville on Feb. 13,...

Power lines along Ruland Road in Melville on Feb. 13, 2020. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

PSEG Long Island said it completed a computer software upgrade last month that allows it to automatically know when customers experience a power outage, but that won’t free ratepayers from having to call the utility when the lights go out.

The new functionality is the result of PSEG’s wide-scale rollout of smart meters across the service area, combined with the recent completion of a computer software upgrade for managing outages. Smart meters send data about customer usage back to the utility for billing and data collection, but only with a recent computer upgrade could the meters provide location-specific data about power outages.

But customers who experience an outage shouldn't put aside their phones. 

“While outages reported by [smart] meters are integrated directly into the [outage management system], customers are still encouraged to report their outages via the mobile app, text, online, social media or phone.”

Asked why, spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler explained that customer outage calls “help us validate single-customer outages,” during blue-sky days when outages aren't linked to weather.

“As in many cases, customers may have work being done at their homes where electricians have disconnected power to the meter for safety reasons,” she said, so sending a repair truck wouldn't be needed.

“During storms," Flagler added, "customer outage calls, especially in the case of single customer outages, also help us to quickly confirm that there is a single customer outage before rolling a truck. In each case, outage validation through customer calls helps to eliminate unnecessary truck rolls.”

The new reporting feature, first reported in a Newsday story in 2019, was beset by problems with a software rollout by PSEG just prior to Tropical Storm Isaias in the summer of 2020. PSEG ultimately was forced to delay the rollout and scale back to an older version of the outage management software because of widespread computer and communications failures after the storm, which left more than 535,000 customers without power, some for up to a week.

LIPA, which owns the system and contracts out management to PSEG, had been critical of delays in PSEG’s computer-system upgrade and testing, and specifically about the lagging functionality of the smart-meter feature. A LIPA spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday. 

PSEG, in a statement, said it completed the work in June. 

“The new integration provides greater reporting accuracy of the number of customers affected by an outage and enhanced visibility to restoration status prior to rolling trucks to a location,” PSEG said.

PSEG phone and computer systems that were overwhelmed by customer calls and texts during Isaias have been tested and can handle the load, Flagler said. 

The newest version of the outage management system has been "successfully" tested to simulate a "12-hour storm based on the events of Tropical Storm Isaias, and that simulates a 90% customer outage over a 24-hour period."

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