HARRISBURG —The region’s largest electric utility is accused of violating its 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.
PPL Corp. faces a $60,000 fine from the state Public Utility Commission. The PUC has asked for public comment on the matter before approving the settlement, though all details of the matter are not being given to the public.
Allentown-based PPL denied the allegations but agreed to a settlement to avoid a formal investigation, according to the 31-page settlement filed on the PUC website.
According to a summary of the incident offered by the PUC:
On April 26, 2012, after receiving an anonymous letter from a PPL employee, the PUC’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, or I&E, began an informal investigation into PPL’s alleged improper transfer of a restoration crew in the wake of the Oct. 29, 2011, snowstorm. The allegation was that the restoration crew was transferred from a higher priority job in order to restore service to a lower priority job. The bureau alleged this was a violation of PUC regulations, the Public Utility Code and the company’s restoration procedures.
A copy of the letter has not been released by the PUC; The Times Leader has filed a right to know request seeking to obtain a copy.
Jennifer R. Kocher, a PUC spokeswoman, said she could not release the letter or additional details of the case because of the settlement agreement, including what areas were affected and the number of customers.
“As a means of reaching an amicable settlement, I&E agreed to exclude from the settlement agreement certain details of the incident which prompted I&E’s informal investigation,” said Kocher. “In concluding the informal investigation, the I&E felt the outcome, which works to ensure this type incident is avoided in the future, was more significant than some specifics of the incident itself.”
According to the settlement, the fine cannot be recovered from consumers.
Bryan Hay, a PPL spokesman, said, “The settlement agreement with the Public Utility Commission staff is appropriate and in the public interest. When the PUC’s staff investigated, PPL Electric Utilities fully cooperated but believes it didn’t violate any state or internal regulations or procedures involving storm restoration priority. That being said, the settlement agreement is a legal matter and I must refer you to the public filing on the PUC website for any additional information.”
That proposed settlement offers an incomplete account of the incident.
It says PPL restoration crews restoring power were “improperly transferred from a high priority job in order to restore service to a lower priority job.” It goes on to say that “If this matter had been litigated, I&E would have alleged that PPL Electric violated its duty to furnish and maintain adequate, efficient, safe, and reasonable service.”
Under the settlement, PPL would be required to 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 October storm, which hit on Halloween weekend, dumped heavy, wet snow throughout eastern and central Pennsylvania, bringing down branches and power lines and causing more than 2,000 customers to lose power in Luzerne County alone.
The largest accumulations in the region were recorded in the higher elevations: Forest City in Susquehanna County had 7.8 inches; Mountain Top, 6 inches, and Moscow in Lackawanna County 4.5 inches.
At the time, PPL spokeswoman Lissette Santana said 200 crews were working to restore power and they would be joined by crews from Kentucky and standby contractors if needed.
Those interested in commenting on the proposed settlement should send the feedback in the next two weeks to: Secretary, PO Box 3265, Harrisburg, PA 17105 .