Scope of storm response review undecided
The Oregon Public Utility Commission will review how well PGE and PPL prepared and responded to the historic winter storm that knocked out power to much of the Willamette Valley.
It is too soon to know whether the review will be any more extensive than those the PUC conducts after every power outage, however. The utility companies and the PUC currently are focused on restoring service to the more than 100,000 customers still in the dark on Thursday, Feb. 18.
"Currently the PUC staff are also focused on the restoration efforts to ensure Oregonians get their service restored as soon as possible. Once the restoration efforts are complete, the PUC will dedicate resources to evaluate this series of weather events and the resulting outages that impacted so many Oregonians," PUC Public Information Officer Kandi Young said in response to a question from the Portland Tribune.
PGE president and CEO Maria Pope declined to endorse a more extensive review when asked by the Pamplin Media Group during a Thursday morning press conference. Instead, Pope called it "a good question" and promised her company would review its preparations and responses to the storm after power has been fully restored.
"We seek to learn from every event," Pope said.
The Oregon Legislature does not intend to look into the utility company's preparations and responses to the storm.
"We're not calling any hearings and probably won't," said Oregon state Sen. Lee Beyer, the chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, who previously served on the PUC.
At the very least, the PUC conduct what is called a "prudence review." They happen when utility companies seek to invest capital in repairing their systems. PGE and other electric utility companies sustained substantial damages during the storm.
During such reviews, other stakeholders are allowed to participate butr submitting requests for information and making their own recomendations. They will include the Citizens' Utility Board, which was formed to represent consumers before the PUC.
"It can be a robust process," said CUB Executive Director Bob Jenks.
The three-member PUC is appointed by the Oregon governor to regulate public utilities. Its staff is based in Salem and conducts such matters as rate request reviews. The PUC also sets numerous safety and performance standards for public utilities, including state-franchised electric companies, natural gas companies, telephone service providers and some water companies.
"The PUC requires the regulated utilities to proactively manage emerging safety and reliability risks such as wildfire, earthquake, storms, or cybersecurity threats," Young said.
The regulations include requiring electric utilities to trim branches on trees away from power lines. During the Thursday press conference, PGE said it inspects 3,300 miles of power lines and trims 250,000 trees annually. Pope said entire trees fell across power lines during this storm because it was so severe.
The PUC also sets standards for restoring power after outages.
"Storm restoration has to balance the priorities of key lifelines like hospitals, nursing homes, water and waste water, and restoration of communication services that depend on power," Young said.
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