In a not-so-faraway land …
… The wholesale undergrounding of overhead electric lines was not viable due to cost, but select portions of distribution lines should be prioritized for undergrounding based on (1) cost; (2) improvement of reliability; and (3) aesthetics and other factors. — from the Exeter report, “Undergrounding Electric Utility Lines in Maryland” (Dec. 30, 1999)
… Local emergency response agencies, in collaboration with the electric and gas utilities, should develop back-up options (e.g., generators/transportation) for medically at-risk customers. The utilities and the local emergency response agencies should communicate these options to customers, with local emergency response agencies responsible for the provision of emergency services. — from the recommendations of the Task Force to Ensure Utility Services (May 2000)
… The utilities should develop and enforce more robust easement agreements to address rear lot line access and tree trimming standards. Additionally, the utilities should develop an education campaign to inform the public of … the importance of routine tree trimming. (same report, May 2000)
… The Public Service Commission should develop a method to compare and evaluate utility performance in service restoration operations. (same report, May 2000)
Fast forward to today …
OK, so finally, more than a decade later, the PSC has been painstakingly crafting reliability standards for the utilities, which have come under increasing attack for power outages, in particular during and after major storms. Last item, check.
Which brings us to the undergrounding of at least some power lines, tree trimming and the accommodating of the medically at-risk in emergencies — and the report of the latest task force looking into the performance of the state’s electric utilities.
In its report dated Sept. 24, the Grid Resiliency Task Force notes among its recommendations that selective undergrounding of lines is an “effective way to harden the grid.” And, it says that improved vegetation management is a “highly effective” way to improve the resiliency of the grid.
The task force also says that emergency management processes can be improved with more collaboration between the utilities and state and local governments and that the utilities should work with emergency managers to expand the registration of special-needs customers.
The latest task force says its recommendations are intended to be implemented in a “cohesive manner,” meaning a comprehensive approach is needed by the utilities to improve performance.
Most controversially, the task force calls for a “tracker” fee to accelerate from four years to two years the completion of some reliability enhancements by the utilities including tree trimming and selective undergrounding of lines. The PSC would determine the amount of the fee.
The task force back in 2000 called for the utilities to receive “timely recovery” of all costs of undergrounding lines “for a significant program to succeed.”
Given that they may well be asked to fork over money upfront to improve the performance of the electric utilities, today’s customers need some assurances that they won’t be reading the same recommendations by a task force a decade from now.