May 3, 2006

Perhaps They Should Have Tested More - National Grid, GE

Glitch hurt storm response
National Grid says software faltered during February wind damage 
By LARRY RULISON, Business writer
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First published: Tuesday, May 2, 2006

ALBANY -- National Grid said problems with a computer software system delayed its efforts to get accurate information to the public during February's wind storm that knocked out power to more than 121,000 Capital Region customers.

In a mandatory assessment report filed April 24 with the state Public Service Commission, National Grid said that due to the "sheer volume of information flooding the system," the software used to manage power outages crashed several times.

"Unfortunately, and as a result, customer contact center representatives were unable to supply accurate restoration information to customers during those periods," the report says.

National Grid, heavily criticized by business owners and political leaders in the days following the statewide storm's destruction, says it is working hard to correct the problem.

The software, called PowerOn, is made by General Electric Co. Dennis Murphy, a spokesman for GE Energy, could not initially comment on the issues raised by National Grid but said he was looking into it.

National Grid spokesman Alberto Bianchetti said that overall, the utility responded "appropriately" to the storm in terms of the number of personnel used and the time it took to restore power, given the storm's severity.

But he said National Grid would provide additional training and add more computer hardware to support PowerOn. He said the software, in use for two years, has been been effective for day-to-day operations and for regional storms. Bianchetti said the utility is happy with the software and will continue to use it.

"This was its first real-life experience with a tremendously large storm," he said.
Anne Dalton, a spokeswoman with the PSC, said the commission's executive staff has been conducting its own analysis of National Grid's storm response.

The staff will take National Grid's report into consideration if it decides to make any recommendations to the PSC board regarding the utility's storm response plan. The board could direct National Grid to make changes, but there is no indication yet if that will occur.
In its report to the PSC, National Grid describes a perfect storm that made restoration efforts extremely difficult. In all, 229,025 National Grid customers lost power statewide. It took five days to completely restore power.

The Capital Region had wind gusts of more than 65 mph, with a peak of 98 mph at Saratoga County Airport.

National Grid said the storm was more challenging than the ice storms of 2002 and 1999 because unlike those storms, the wind storm affected the company's entire service area.
Furthermore, crews from neighboring utilities were initially unavailable because the storm affected them as well.

Despite those problems, National Grid said most of its storm response went smoothly and according to its plan on file with the PSC. The company had nearly 1,600 employees dedicated to the effort, including 647 crews in the field.

State Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, said Monday she had not yet seen National Grid's storm response report, but she knew that it was difficult at times for the public to get accurate information during the storm. She held a public workshop in Warrensburg in March with National Grid and local officials about what could be done better during future storms and outages.

She said Monday that one idea that emerged was the creation of a radio channel that could be reserved to broadcast information to the public during outages.

"We think that could be beneficial," Little said. "There was a lot of misinformation that was out there."