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New York settles with Avangrid utilities over 2018 storm outages

New York regulators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Dec. 19 announced a settlement agreement with two Avangrid Inc. utilities in the state over their response to winter storms in 2018 that left hundreds of thousands of customers without service.

The $10.5 million New York State Electric & Gas Corp., or NYSEG, and Rochester Gas and Electric Corp., or RG&E, agreed to pay is the largest amount paid to date by utilities for failing to follow New York's emergency response procedures.

"This settlement makes crystal clear that utilities in New York have an obligation to prepare for severe weather and to develop robust storm response programs, and if they fail to adequately do that job we will hold them accountable and force them to change how they do business," Cuomo said in a news release.

Earlier this year, the two companies agreed to a $3.9 million penalty — the largest at the time — over their response to a windstorm in March 2017. In March 2018, several storms brought hurricane-force winds and blizzard conditions to upstate New York, disrupting electric service multiple times. The state Public Service Commission's review of the companies' storm response actions, covered in a report issued in April and including all of the state's major electric distribution utilities, included the March 2018 storms as well as windstorms and severe thunderstorms in spring 2018. (PSC Case 19-M-0285)

NYSEG shouldered most of the blame in the most recent settlement, responsible for $9 million of the penalty. The company admitted to 18 violations of its state-approved emergency response plan. RG&E will pay the remaining $1.5 million and admitted to three violations. All money will come from shareholder funds.

Also, NYSEG will hire 20 additional employees with storm restoration responsibilities and maintain at least 175 damage assessment-trained employees. The company will also have to hire a third-party consultant to audit and assess its storm response training and training exercise programs.

The settlement must be reviewed and acted upon by the PSC. The state Department of Public Service, which serves as the PSC's staff, was directed to file an enforcement action with the state Supreme Court to compel the utilities to comply with storm preparedness and response requirements.