PSEG Long Island considering no-call policy for nonemergencies

Mark Harrington for Newsday

August 23, 2020

Originally published in Newsday on August 23, 2020.

With new storms barreling toward the U.S. mainland, PSEG Long Island is hurrying fixes and considering new plans that could head off the overwhelmed communication and computer systems that dogged it during Isaias, including the “preliminary” idea of dissuading some customers from reporting outages.

In an interview, PSEG president and Chief Operating Officer Dan Eichhorn said the idea of a no-call policy for nonemergencies is “something that right now has been considered, but we’ve not made decisions on” yet.

“There are a lot of things we’re considering as part of our after-action review” of the storm, but it has not been put in place, Eichhorn stressed Friday. “We don’t want to tell people that right now.”

Eichhorn acknowledged, “It’s correct that in this storm we knew the majority of the customers that were out” because of the widespread installation of smart meters. But PSEG doesn’t want to discourage customers who have an emergency such as a downed wire from calling.

More than half of PSEG’s customers — 600,000 of 1.12 million ratepayers — have smart meters, which can alert the company that in the event of a storm the meter, and the home or building they’re attached to, do not have power. 

The meters were one way the company determined early in Tropical Storm Isaias on Aug. 4 just how many people were without power and where. Eichhorn repeatedly has said the meters worked well during Isaias, and that the customers who had them didn’t need to contact the company to report an outage unless an emergency or critical-care situation existed.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said he’d been told of the tentative plan, and had issues with it. For one, he said, it won’t be easy to dissuade Long Islanders to report their outage and demand restoration.

“People aren’t going to listen to that,” he said.

But his chief concern was that it suggested the computer and telecom systems might fail again, a situation he called “not acceptable.”

About 420,000 Long Islanders were without power after Isaias, and it took more than a week for some to have their electricity restored.

Other state legislators say they are looking for more points of contact with PSEG during storms, not fewer. Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hempstead) introduce a bill this month that would mandate utilities maintain a toll-free number “manned by live operators for customers to reach in the event of an outage,” her office said Sunday.

Marissa Espinoza, an aide to Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), called the prospective don’t-call policy “shortsighted and dangerous.”

“Only 50% of customers have smart meters,” she said. “For older people, if they are without a smart meter and their power goes out, they’re trapped.”

After Isaias, Gaughran’s office fielded numerous calls from customers with smart meters whose power was out “but was listed by PSEG as being on,” she said.

“I understand and appreciate the need for PSEG to move to alleviate some of the issues that arose during Isaias, but it seems that adding capacity to their staff and computer system to be able to field a surge of incoming calls makes a heck of a lot more sense than abandoning customers,” she said.