12/16/12

Why No Energy, Utility, Telecommunications Disaster Planning?

Weeks after Superstorm Sandy, tens of thousands of New Yorkers were still without electricity, water or telecommunications. Service still hasn't been fully restored in some places.

The Long Island Power Authority's failure to maintain service during and after the storm is only the most recent and dramatic example of the state's utilities being overwhelmed by extreme weather events.

Before Sandy, weaker storms had left customers without electric, gas, steam, telecommunications and other services, because New York State has no long-term utility planning process.

As the state investigates Sandy-related service failures, a broad-based advocacy coalition has petitioned the state's Public Service Commission (PSC) to mandate that energy, telecommunications and other regulated public utilities effect long-term disaster planning.

The coalition, led by the Columbia Center for Climate Change Law, has formally petitioned the PSC to make utilities develop long-term hazard mitigation plans to address the new climate change-induced realities of record storm surges and rising sea levels.

Providers would be required to implement prevention strategies to avoid service interruptions due to extreme weather, and target infrastructure investments to prevent the need for costly repairs and rebuilding in the future.

While utilities do analyze extreme weather events, the advocates say, they don't use their analysis to address developing weaknesses in the system.

But Sandy was far from an isolated event:  it's what we can expect as climate change advances, the advocates say.  Business as usual is no longer an option.

Calling for more resilient, more reliable, more diversified energy systems incorporating clean energy alternatives like wind and solar, the advocates say the key to the state's economic future is planning for climate change and extreme weather, to ensure reliable delivery of electricity, gas, steam, water and telecommunications.

This goal, they say, is both within the power and part of the mission of the PSC, the primary regulator of the state's electric, gas, steam, telecommunications and water utilities.

They propose that disaster plans include the following four elements:

• Hazard mitigation and disaster response, including ongoing evaluation of infrastructure to ensure it can cope with increasing stresses;

• Looking at future climate, not just past weather events, so that future investments can be targeted to developing trouble spots;

• Include all utility companies and state and city officials in a coherent, coordinated, statewide planning process;

• Periodically review the utilities' disaster response plans to include new projections of climate and service needs.

View the petition here.

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