PSEG makes progress but LIPA concerns linger on storms

With storm season already under way, PSEG Long Island has made progress in implementing and testing some storm-response systems but is “far from completing” the overall fix and is relying on an “out-of-date” computer system, a LIPA task force report obtained by Newsday says.

PSEG recently completed a comprehensive test of the systems that failed during Tropical Storm Isaias last August and declared the test a success. But LIPA noted that PSEG “was unable to meet its own proposed project deadlines” to install a new version of the outage management computer system that has considerably more capability. It also noted that the test was conducted during off-peak hours. The outage computer system is central to the utility’s response to storms, including analyzing outages and assigning work crews, posting outage locations online and estimating restoration times.

As it is, PSEG was forced to test and keep in place for this summer an older “out-of-date” version of the system on “antiquated” hardware, says the LIPA report, to be issued Wednesday.

PSEG “needs to move to a modern, supported system, test that, and LIPA needs to independently test that system before remediations of the communications and outage management systems can be considered complete,” the report states.

LIPA is considering terminating its contract with PSEG and either hiring another contractor to operate Long Island’s electric grid or managing the system itself following the Isaias failures. In its report, LIPA said PSEG continues to display an “over-reliance” on outside vendors to finish the work in preparation for major storms. Storm season started June 1.

PSEG spokeswoman Ashley Chauvin said the company is ready for storm season.

“PSEG Long Island is confident that our systems are ready for storm season,” she said in a written statement, noting the company “completed a successful” test of the computer and communication systems “in an extreme weather scenario.” One test, she said, included simulating “up to 90% of the customer base reporting outages” over a 24-hour period.

PSEG “has worked tirelessly since last August to make improvements to our systems and processes, and has been responsive to recommendations from the state, LIPA and its board,” Chauvin said, noting PSEG will review the new LIPA report “once we have received it.”

In the report, LIPA continued to criticize PSEG for “weak project management and oversight,” and “inadequate in-house technical expertise.”

LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone said while the storm systems are “obviously in a better place” than a year ago, “we’re not where we hoped to be” including with a continuity plan that would be enacted if computer and telecom systems fail again.

“There’s still a long way to go,” he said.

LIPA last year presented PSEG with a to-do list to get its storm response systems in line, but in its report LIPA noted that many items “were delayed, deferred or not resubmitted for LIPA’s approval” once rejected.

The outage computer system currently in use is version 5.5, even though most of the industry has switched to version 6.7, and version 7.0 is due out soon. The software vendor no longer provides updates or patches for version 5.5 but provides special support to PSEG on a “break/fix basis,” the report states.

The older version doesn’t allow for integration of the hundreds of thousands of smart meters PSEG has installed, nor does it have built-in, two-way support for mobile devices used by crews doing damage assessment.

PSEG is running the old software on hardware based on an “outdated” operating system, Windows Server 2008, a version that Microsoft ended support and regular security patches for more than a year ago, LIPA’s task force said.

LIPA noted that PSEG had planned to implement the newer version prior to storm season, as it had done last year, to well-publicized results. But PSEG “was unable to complete” the upgrade in time, and now plans to do so sometime after the 2021 storm season. LIPA said it awaits a schedule for when the company will do so.

Falcone said attempts to renegotiate a contract with PSEG have not borne fruit. “We’ve made our best offer and haven’t heard back,” he said. LIPA is also seeking information from other utilities or companies interested in potentially taking over the contract. Responses are due to LIPA by July 19.

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