PSE numbers omit longer outages

J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

The statistics Puget Sound Energy uses to gauge its reliability of its service for Mercer Island customers do not include outages caused by major storms.

Every year, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) must submit a reliability report to the city according to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The plan requires the reliability measures to include the total number of outages experienced by Islanders, the duration of each outage and the number of customers affected.

However, the reliability review for 2001-2005 submitted by PSE uses measures that exclude large-scale outages like what Island residents experienced last week after the wind storm on the night of Dec. 14.

The reason, the report states, is to make the numbers more “normal.”

“Major storm events are defined as when five percent or more of PSE customers company-wide lose power,” the report states. “Such events skew outage data because the large number of outages can be overwhelming and result in significantly increased response times that are not indicative of normal times.”

Those measures indicate that Island residents lose power less often and get it back more quickly than all PSE customers as a whole.

But those numbers don’t include windstorms such as the one the on Dec. 27, 2002. The NOAA major storm database shows that that event had high winds that knocked out power to about 300,000 homes throughout western Washington and there was extensive damage to Eastern King County.

The reliability report also lists what the utility has done to maintain the system each year. In recent years, PSE has remediated hundreds of feet of wires, replaced poles and installed devices that will isolate power outages when they do happen, so they do not affect as many customers. The utility has replaced poles and added “tree wire” that protects wires from snapping when hit by a tree to many areas City maintenance director, Glenn Boettcher said that the duration of power outages depends on numerous variables. In a normal, non-major outage, PSE crews are working with adequate resources to respond. Yet in a situation like last week, in which PSE had to call for assistance from crews from Southern California Edison and others, restoring power gets very complex, Boettcher said.

“The reason why everyone doesn’t get their power restored at the same time is complicated,” Boettcher said. “It has to do, in part, with the systematic way power has to be restored, the availability of specialized crews, such as transmission line and tree crews, and the degree of damage. Plus where that damage occurs (is also a factor).”

Investor-owned Puget Energy, the holding company for Puget Sound Energy, supplies electricity and natural gas to over 1 million customers. The 2005 Annual Report to shareholders states that the utility invested $400 million in 2005 and planned to spend $454 million in 2006 to “add new mains and substations and higher capacity pipelines and transmission lines to ensure reliable delivery to all.”

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