Saturday November 17, 2012

NEW YORK -- As the number of nights without power stretched on for thousands left in the dark after Superstorm Sandy, patience understandably turned to anger and outrage.

But an Associated Press analysis of outage times from other big hurricanes and tropical storms suggests that, on the whole, the response to Sandy by utility companies, especially in hardest-hit New York and New Jersey, was typical -- or even a little faster than elsewhere after other huge storms.

The AP, with the assistance of Ventyx, a software company that helps utilities manage their grids, used U.S. Energy Department data to determine how many days it took to restore 95 percent of the peak number of customers left without power after major hurricanes since 2004, including Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Ike and Irene.

After Sandy, New York utilities restored power to at least 95 percent of customers 13 days after the peak number of outages was reported. New Jersey reached that same level in 11 days and West Virginia in 10 days.

Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005 and Ike in 2008 all resulted in longer outages for customers in Louis iana, Texas, Mississippi and Florida.

The longest stretch to 95 percent restoration since 2004 was Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, where local utilities had power restored to only three-quarters of their customers after 23 days before Hurricane Rita hit and caused additional outages.

It took Texas utilities 16 days to restore power to 95 percent of those who lost it during Rita, according to the federal data; Mississippi utilities needed 15 days after Katrina; Florida and Texas utilities needed 14 days after Wilma and Ike.

New York and New Jersey recovered far faster after last year’s Hurricane Irene. It took seven days for New York to restore 95 percent of customers and six days for New Jersey. But the number of outages in each state was less than half than from Sandy.

The restoration target of 95 percent allowed the AP to compare responses to the largest number of recent storms using Energy Department data, and is considered by industry experts to provide a meaningful picture of the speed with which utilities restored service to the vast majority of customers.

Just because New York and New Jersey utilities restored power in a range that is normal by historical standards does not prove that all of the utilities in the region performed equally well, or that they performed better or worse than their peers responding to outages in other states, or that there isn’t plenty of room for improvement.

Frustrated residents, business owners and state and local officials lashed out at their electric utilities. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York formed a commission to investigate the responses of utilities in his state, and the operations chief of one utility, the Long Island Power Authority, resigned.