In testimony submitted to a joint New York State Senate and Assembly hearing on power and communication failures from Tropical Storm Isaias, County Executive George Latimer expressed his frustration on behalf of the nearly one million of residents of the County while making two proposals for how the issues can be addressed.
In the testimony, Latimer said, “By the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 5 roughly 100,000 Westchester customers were left powerless and/or without phone, cable and internet service. Cell phone calls were all but impossible to make throughout the County. Sadly, as this testimony is being drafted there are still Altice and Con Edison customers without services. Outrageous in anytime but today, in an age of working from home, distance learning and an ever increasing reliance on having adequate power – not to mention the scorching temperatures – thousands of Westchester residents were left, and still are left, in the dark or without telecommunications for over a week at the hands of Con Edison, NYSEG, Altice and Verizon.”
Latimer’s two proposals include a new fine structure, aimed at putting a true financial pain – that would not be shifted to ratepayers – on the utility companies and the creation of a “utility reserve corps” so storm recovery does not take 5-10 days due to logistics.
On the fine structure, Latimer noted, “I propose an upfront fine structure by the Public Service Commission that is simple, straightforward and may finally provide the real financial incentive that these utility companies need and understand. The formula is this – take the total number of customers without power times the number of outage days and multiply that by $1,000. Meaning, 10 customers out of power for 10 days would levy a fine of $100,000. The fines would be directly tied to the community impact, would not correlate with a rate increase, and have some teeth.”
While also noting the poor customer communication displayed by the utility companies, an issue which Latimer noted was ‘promised’ to be addressed by the utility companies following the infamous storms in March 2018, Latimer set forth a proposal which may actually allow the communicated restoration deadlines – which were ignored by the companies – to come to fruition.
Latimer said, “What has become abundantly clear to me is that the single biggest reason why it takes so long for power to be restored is lack of personnel… Therefore, I am proposing, in concept, the creation of a “utilities reserve corps” recruited from utility worker retirees and other sources, they would receive an annual stipend and receive annual updated training a week per year.”