We know what a devastating time this has been for the people of New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy left more than 1.7 million PSE&G customers without power. Over the two week period, including the Nor'easter, we restored power to more customers than in any other storm in our history - or in the history of any utility in the country. We brought in 1,000 out-of-state line workers and tree trimmers in preparation for the storm and that number grew to more than 4,000 by November 9th. In the first three days alone, we restored service to more than one million customers.
We certainly understand and empathize with the frustration and suffering of those who were without power and heat for a longer period.
This was an unprecedented storm and unusually difficult restoration for several reasons:
The size and the power:
• Twice the size of Hurricane Irene
• Widespread impact - 900 square miles
• Incredibly strong winds - 90MPH
When the storm hit:
• More than 1/3 of our transmission circuits, 1/2 of our sub transmission circuits and more than 3/4 of our distribution circuits were interrupted.
• The Nor'easter the following week created even more damage and put temporary repairs at risk.
• Twice the number of customers who were impacted by Hurricane Irene, which until now had the distinction of being the worst storm in PSE&G history
• Almost three times the number of customers in the October 2011 snow storm
• Record number of trees impacted - 48,000 trees removed or trimmed (compared to 22,500 after Hurricane Irene)
• Replaced/repaired over 2,400 utility poles, almost three times the number we replaced in the last two storms. (Thanks to pre-storm preparation, we never ran out of equipment to restore service.)
• The record tree and pole damage slowed our ability to restore power in Union, Middlesex, Bergen and western Essex counties as we struggled to gain access to streets, and in some cases backyards to repair overhead lines.
The Storm Surge:
At a number of switching stations and substations located along the Hudson, Hackensack and Passaic rivers, as well as two switching stations located along the Arthur Kill, the storm surge brought a wall of water ranging from four to eight feet into the locations, damaging the equipment. Some of these stations had never been impacted by water damage in the 50 to 75 years that they existed. The work to restore those stations required painstaking, labor intensive drying and cleaning of equipment to get them back in service.
What Did We Learn and What Are We Working On To Do Better:
Hurricane Sandy and the increased frequency of storms like this - have now defined a new normal. Over the coming weeks, we will study and analyze what happened, what we learned and how we can do better. Here is some of our initial thinking.
The Key Is ... Good Customer Communications
We conducted daily calls with the Mayors of every town in our service area and the President of the utility conducted a media briefing every morning.
We fielded over 2.3 million calls into our call center. We sent frequent emails to the more than 800,000 customers that we have email addresses for in our database. We updated our website frequently.
We sent more than 8,000 Twitter messages on outages, restorations, and information about our Mobile Customer Care Centers where we provided food, ice, water, and charging facilities in hard hit areas.
We added 45,000 new Twitter followers during the storm and reached millions of people through their re-tweets. Yet, we know we can improve communication and we're looking at a number of initiatives.
• Like every other utility in New Jersey, we were hampered by the lack of information at the meter/customer level. Our systems only have information at the transmission, switching, substation and circuit level. When the circuit is restored, we have no way of knowing that a particular customer does not have service unless they report it individually. We know that led to some frustration.
• To have customer level information, we need smart grid/ intelligence at the meter. We will be looking at proposals for smart grid technology. This is a decision that must be made at the state level and clearly costs must be taken into consideration.
• We will continue to encourage customers to sign up for My Account on our website which enables them to report individual outages on line and receive other forms of communication.
• We will continue to explore improved use of web, text and social media to improve and expand customer communication options.
• We will work with municipalities, county Offices of Emergency Management and the NJ Board of Public Utilities to further improve crisis communication plans.
We Will Continue To Strengthen Our Infrastructure for the New Normal:
To deal with the flooding from heavy rains that we saw in last year's storms, we identified substations that needed to be protected with barriers and installed them.
• We will evaluate options to protect substations in coastal areas.
• The best way to protect the system is to build in redundancy in our distribution system. For example, we will be building a new substation over the next year inland in Newark. With the "loop" design of our network, we can reroute electricity when we have an issue with a substation. So, we will continue to build more redundancy into our system.
• We will evaluate our tree trimming programs and be more aggressive with trees near power lines and will consider moving from a four-year cycle to a three-year cycle.
• Repairing damaged equipment in hard-to-reach places is time and resource intensive. We need to consider how we can work with municipal leaders to move utility poles and electrical lines that run through backyards to the curb.
• We will continue to build up our transmission infrastructure around the state to increase reliability. We expect to invest about $1 billion in transmission enhancements and replacements this year.
• We will analyze the effectiveness, costs and whether it might make sense to bury some overhead lines to increase reliability.
What Can You Expect
• To restore customers after a storm of this magnitude, we needed to make a significant number of temporary repairs to our electric delivery system. Crews have continued working to make those repairs permanent and return the system to its normal design.
o As a result of the impact of the storm and the temporary repairs, for a period of time, the system may be less reliable than usual, and there may be more outages than the utility would experience in a normal day. The good news is that our restoration time will be faster.
o We ask for your continued patience as we work to restore our system to normal and once again provide the high level of reliability our customers have come to expect.
• The bills that some customers received in the days following the storm had estimated usage, as meter readers were temporarily re-assigned to helping with the storm. Meter reading is back on schedule and bills will be adjusted for actual usage. You will not be charged for any service that you did not use.
• We will continue to publish information on our website for customers who need financial assistance in paying their bills.
• We will continue to communicate with you via bill inserts, our website, Twitter and email.
And Most of All: Thank You
We are grateful to the Governor, to the state and to FEMA for their continuous support.
We are grateful to the first responders across the state - police, firemen, hospitals and emergency crews - who kept all of us safe.
We are very grateful for the support we received from the utility industry across the country and from the malls and businesses who generously provided their properties for our use to organize and mobilize over 4,600 workers in the daunting task of restoring service to the people of New Jersey.
We are both proud of and grateful to the PSE&G teams - those who work in bucket trucks and in call centers, logistics and critical support functions and the more than 1,000 employees who volunteered to lend a hand in the storm - who worked tirelessly to restore service.
We are especially grateful to our customers for their patience during what we know was an incredibly frustrating and difficult time. We appreciate the hundreds of thank you letters, emails, tweets and handmade signs on utility poles.
PSE&G is committed to working with the people of New Jersey to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
Ralph Izzo,Chairman and CEO, PSEG Ralph LaRossa, COO and President of PSE&G