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Effects of Storm Jonas on Utilities

Storm Jonas

From January 22, 2016 to January 24, 2016, the Mid-Atlantic through the Northeast regions of the United States were hit hard with a major blizzard, called Storm Jonas, which affected approximately 103 million people.  It took many by surprise after having a relatively warm winter. In its aftermath, some states saw up to three feet of snow.

Governors of eleven states declared a state of emergency and the National Guard was deployed and distributed road salt throughout the affected areas. Utility companies were faced with the responsibility of getting their customers up and running as quickly as possible.

Con Edison pro-actively helped their customers to avert more than 1,000 power outages during the Blizzard due to one billion dollar upgrades it had performed to its infrastructure over the past three years. Specifically, Con Edison observed that more than 1,000 customers in Brooklyn and Queens would have experienced outages if not for new equipment installed along overhead wiring, streamlined to make the system more durable, thus preventing outages. These improvements helped Con Edison address other outages. More than 4,500 storm related power outages occurred. Con Edison’s crews were able to respond quickly to restore power in the heaviest hit areas and by Monday when the storm ended all customers were backed up.

Con Edison’s mobile solutions also helped customers manage their accounts, report and check the status of an outage and learn energy-saving tips, thereby helping them be able to contact Con Edison quicker and minimize hazards.

Companies in warmer areas sent trucks to help with the affected area in a show of support. For example Tampa Electric sent about 250 workers to North Carolina to help Duke Energy in the Carolinas.

Although there was some damage, the actions of states working together with citizens and utility companies helped minimize the threats. State Governors set the tone for actions to be taken during the storm on a state level and were in contact with Utility companies.

For example, New Jersey State Governor Chris Christie’s representatives were on conference calls with the power companies and helped direct customers to utility resources. States of Emergency were called so that only essential vehicles could be on the road. The BPU, or New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, activated a storm cloud reporting system to help power companies track outages. This helped the utility companies provide a more rapid response in the face of the storm.

Duke Energy in North Carolina deployed about 3,200 line workers in the area to deal with the storm.

In Maryland, Baltimore Gas & Electric said about 12,000 customers had lost service, but the end of the storm power had returned nearly all. During the worst of the storm, 5,500 BG&E customers were without power.

Ultimately, Storm Jonas greatly affected the utilities on the East Coast. Luckily, state officials were able to predict it and declare a state of emergency ahead of time. Con Edison’s technology also helped lessen the effects of the storm. For other utilities however, there was still damage, and numerous individuals still lost their power.

 

Sources:

http://www.utilitydive.com/news/east-coast-utilities-prepare-for-potentially-crippling-winter-storm/412534/

http://www.state.nj.us/governor/news/news/552016/approved/20160122b.html

http://www.utilitydive.com/news/east-coast-utilities-dodged-a-bullet-with-winter-storm-jonas/412724/

Utility Rate Hikes: No-Win Scenario for NY Ratepayers

Rate Hikes

As New Yorkers pay the highest average electric rates in the continental United States, it is important to understand what goes into a rate hike.  Once investor-owned utilities have a rate increase approved, not only do they charge the consumers that higher rate, but also take the cost for representing themselves to get the increase approved and pass that through to the consumer as well.

A proposed rate increase is brought forth and approved by the Public Service Commission (PSC).  According to a new AARP report, it states “Essentially, ratepayers are paying to propose and defend increases in their own rates.  In contrast, ratepayers have little to no representation at the PSC during rate proceedings, even though the ratepayers are paying the legal bills of the party who is trying to raise their rates”.

There are 40 states in the United States, plus the District of Columbia, that have a utility consumer advocate office to represent the consumers in state and federal utility regulatory commission proceedings.  These offices are charged with taking legal positions opposing the utilities and their regulators, and seek judicial review.  There is no such office in the state of New York to fight rate increases on behalf of ratepayers or to appeal a rate increase in court.  In-turn, it should be no surprise that New York rates are 56 percent above the national average and second costliest in the nation – only second to Hawaii.

The AARP examined the electric rate savings for customers that have independent utility consumer advocate offices and found that the savings from such offices far exceeded the cost for their operations.  Here are some of their findings:

  • Connecticut reported approximately $730 million in savings on a $3 million budget – a 243-1 ROI.
  • Illinois reported approximately $300 million in savings on a $2.6 million budget – a 115-1 ROI.
  • Maryland reported approximately $114 million in savings on a $3.2 million budget – a 36-1 ROI.
  • Main reported approximately $24 million in savings on a $1.7 million budget – a 14-1 ROI.
  • Ohio reported approximately $107 million in savings on a $5.1 million budget – a 21-1 ROI.
  • Pennsylvania reported approximately $500 million in savings on a $5.1 million budget – a 98-1 ROI.

It is evident that when utilities push for a rate increase, ratepayers need to be able to push back.  An independent utility consumer advocate office in New York to advocate and participate fully in cases before the PSC would allow ratepayers a voice when it comes to their higher charges and the costs to utility providers that are being passed through to them.

How Patterns of Energy Consumption Have Changed in the U.S.

Energy-Consumption-Patterns

There is no doubt that the use of energy in America has changed drastically through our history which can be attributed to the new sources introduced.  The chart below from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), demonstrates how our energy sources have changed over time.  Beginning with wood as the sole primary energy source, we evolved to hydroelectric power (flowing water that creates energy and turns it into electricity – like that of a water mill), then coal, and now petroleum products lead the way.

From this chart we can see that coal has been a steady resource for our country.  It seems to drop when other sources surface – such as oil and natural-gas – but tends to always make a come-back.  This may be due to the fact of it being cheap, and the numerous ways in which coal can be used.

The EIA states, “Since the mid-20th century, the use of coal has again increased (mainly as a primary energy source for electric power generation), and a new form of energy—nuclear electric power—emerged.  While the overall energy history of the United States is one of significant change as new forms of energy were developed, the three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which together provided 87% of total U.S. primary energy over the past decade—have dominated the U.S. fuel mix for well over 100 years.”

Renewable energy – such as wind and solar power – are increasing.  However, based on this chart of historical energy consumption in the U.S., that does not at all mean the use of other sources will decrease in its’ place.  In fact, the EIA predicts that in 2040, 75% of U.S. energy will still come from oil, coal, and natural gas.