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Isaias: Cuomo Proposes New Penalties For Utility Companies' Response To Storm

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was critical of utility companies' response to Tropical Storm Isaias.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was critical of utility companies' response to Tropical Storm Isaias. Photo Credit: Central Hudson

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a scathing indictment to the state’s utility companies for their muted response to Tropical Storm Isaias, which left some without power for more than a week.

During a briefing on Monday, Aug. 24, Cuomo announced he plans to propose legislation that will increase penalties for utility companies when they fail to properly plan and respond to a storm.

Cuomo also said that some franchises could ultimately be fired if they don’t make the necessary changes before future storms strike.

“The utility company responses were unacceptable following the recent tropical storm,” he said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve had a storm … this has become more and more the norm, unfortunately.

“It’s unacceptable that utility companies continue to have such problems during storms and in the aftermath,” Cuomo added. “We know that these storms are going to happen. We know that in the middle of the storm the power is going to go out, and we know that consumers will want to know when the power is coming back on to plan and live our lives.”

Currently, the law limits penalties for utility companies to $100,000 or .02 percent of 1 percent of the companies’ gross operating revenues, a figure that Cuomo said should be raised to pressure the companies.

“We pay for these utility companies to provide a service, they’re not doing us a favor,” Cuomo said. “This is what we pay for. We don’t pay just to have the utility companies function on a nice day.

“The essence of what we pay for is to be ready for a storm … to be ready to handle a storm, and to give me information about when my power will come back on.”

Cuomo said that the current limit on penalties has become more of an operating expense than a true blow to the utility companies.

“The laws in New York are too protective of the utility companies, and that has to change,” he added. “That limit, compared to the money they’re making, is (nothing). They’re just paying the penalties as a cost of doing business.”

The governor added that if New York utility companies continue to fail to provide proper services, the state will take measures to bring in companies that can do so before and in the aftermath of a storm.

“I believe these utility companies have the attitude of thinking they’re too big to fail. They have a license to operate and there’s nothing they can do about it,” Cuomo said. “That’s not true. They work for the people of this state. And if they’re not providing that service, then we should fire them. If they’re not providing their service, then let’s find someone else to provide that service.

“It’s gotten to the point with utility companies where they will just say ‘penalize me’ and just dismiss it as an overall cost of business,” Cuomo continued. “We have to change the law so ether amount of the penalties, so that the penalty is actually a penalty.”

According to Cuomo, “it has to be a penalty that will change (companies’) behavior because it is significant.”

“Saying $100,000 per incident to these companies is not significant,” he added.

Cuomo said that there needs to also be a faster process of revoking franchises so it doesn’t take years. He also wants a mandatory communications system that will operate effectively during storms.

“People are reasonable … but they need to know when their power will be coming back on. They need to know whether to stay in the house or leave,” he continued. “We need to know if it’s going to be one day, or two hours, or a week. They have to provide that information.

“So a change in the law is required. That’s what we need to do. If you’re upset, we need to take that upset, use the emotion and make changes.” 

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