On April 26, 2012, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on Weather-Related Electrical Outages.  The Director of FERC’s Office of Enforcement, Norman Bay, testified before the Committee regarding FERC’s analysis of the effects of the October 29-30, 2011 snowstorm in the Northeastern United States.  Bay testified that FERC staff is working with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (“NERC”) on a joint inquiry, but is a month away from issuing its final report.

Bay testified that roughly ninety-five percent of the outages were caused by damage to distribution facilities, or the lines which deliver electricity to individual homes and businesses which are regulated by the states.  Bay indicated that several states have begun their own inquiries into the outage, and he commended these efforts.  Bay also stated that approximately seventy transmission lines experienced sustained outages, and FERC and NERC’s study will determine the cause of these outages and determine steps that utilities can take to improve performance.

Bay told the Committee that through its investigation and joint effort, NERC and FERC have conducted interviews, done site visits and collected a large amount of data.  FERC and NERC will do outreach to states and trade associations to present preliminary findings.

Bay presented the key issues that FERC and NERC are examining: (1) the effects of the storm on specific transmission lines and substations that experienced outages; (2) how these outages affected the Bulk Power System as a whole; (3) the effect of these facility outages on customers; (4) the role of compliance or lack of compliance with FERC-approved mandatory reliability standards, particularly Transmission Vegetation Management Reliability Standard (FAC-003-1) played in the outages; and (5) consideration of several recommendations on how utilities can improve vegetation management and other practices to reduce transmission outages during snowstorms and similar events.

A copy of Norman Bay’s testimony is available here.