The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Thursday finalized a settlement with PPL Electric Utilities Corp. that includes a $60,000 civil penalty.
The agreement stems from an investigation into restoration practices during an October 2011 snowstorm that alleged a power restoration crew was transferred from a higher-priority job to restore service to a lower-priority job.
In addition to the civil penalty, which cannot be recovered from consumers, PPL must add a provision to its storm restoration procedures instructing personnel not to deviate from the company’s guidelines when assigning storm restoration crews and will file reports with the commission that specify the company’s compliance with the terms of the settlement.
The investigation was spurred by an anonymous letter from a PPL employee. That letter is the subject of an ongoing open records appeal filed by The Times Leader against the PUC with the state Open Records Office after the PUC denied the newspaper’s request to release it even though it was used as the basis of the settlement.
Melissa Bevan Melewsky, a media law attorney with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said as she reads the open records law and the PUC’s own statutes, the letter should be released and treated as a public document.
“I think the PUC’s statutes require disclosure though they can redact the name, but in this case, as the letter’s anonymous, there wouldn’t be much to redact,” Melewsky said.
The letter alleges the region’s largest electric utility violated its own internal guidelines and state law as part of its response to a late-October 2011 snowstorm that left 388,318 of PPL’s 1.4 million customers, including many in Luzerne County, without power.
The PUC letter notes a settlement between PPL Electric Utilities, Inc. and the PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement “provides for a civil penalty but keeps the details regarding the ‘tip letter’ and most of the investigation confidential.”
Melewsky said that PUC statutes dictate that “the PUC shall release the records by which it relies on to make decisions.”
The state Office of Open Records has until Nov. 11 to make a ruling on The Times Leader’s request that the PUC release the letter.