After more than 315,000 customers were left without power in New Hampshire following this past weekend's storm, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) today called for a federal review of national reliability standards for America's electric power grid. In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the Senators noted that reliability seems to be declining. Three separate major outages in the past two years alone have affected hundreds of thousands of customers in New Hampshire, sometimes for as long as a week.
"Electric power is fundamental to the functioning of our economy and the welfare of our citizens," Shaheen said. "Without power, especially for a prolonged period, businesses are forced to close and homes can become uninhabitable. While all of us in New Hampshire understand the challenges our weather brings, electric outages seem to be getting worse, not better. We need an electric system we can rely on, one that contributes to our public safety instead of detracting from it."
"New Hampshire residents have had to deal with repeated widespread power outages during the past year due to weather-related events, most recently during last weekend's October snowstorm," Ayotte said. "Prolonged power outages cause tremendous strain and hardship on Granite State families and small businesses, and interrupt our children's studies in school. With this early record-breaking winter storm serving as a reminder, we must work to ensure proper oversight is in place to guarantee reliability standards."
In addition to the 315,000 New Hampshire customers who lost power this past weekend, 160,000 customers lost power in August this year after Hurricane Irene and 360,000 lost power in February of 2010 following a wind storm.
The full text of the Senators' letter is below.
November 3, 2011
The Honorable Jon Wellinghoff
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426
Mr. Gerry F. Cauley
President and CEO
North American Electric Reliability Corporation
1120 G Street, NW Suite 990
Washington, DC 20005-3801
Dear Chairman Wellinghoff and Mr. Cauley:
We are writing regarding the recent snowstorm which has left 315,000 New Hampshire and more than 2 million New England utility customers without power. In New Hampshire alone, the storm caused the loss of ninety-one main circuits, or back bone power lines, for Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), the largest number in the company's history. Three other utilities, National Grid, Unitil and the New Hampshire Electric Co-op were also heavily affected by the storm. Given your responsibility to protect the bulk electric system and ensure reliability for the millions of consumers and business who rely on electric power, we are requesting your prompt review of the adequacy of our nation's reliability standards.
Perhaps most troubling to us is the seeming downward trend in electric reliability for New Hampshire's utilities. In the case of PSNH, New Hampshire's largest electric utility, during the last two years alone the utility experienced three severe weather incidents which affected hundreds of thousands of electric customers. In addition to last month's snowstorm, which ranks as the third largest power outage in our state's history, 160,000 customers lost power in August of this year from Hurricane Irene and 360,000 customers lost power in February of 2010 from a wind storm. These outages are in addition to three smaller weather-related outages this year which also affected tens of thousands of their customers.
These electric outages, some lasting as long as a week for some customers, have real consequences. Businesses are forced to close, a lack of power for home heating and cooling systems can become life threatening, and downed power lines can threaten public safety. As you may know, a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that the national cost of power interruptions is about $80 billion annually. The health and welfare of the American people and the needs of our economy demand a reliable electric power system. Given the most recent events, we think it is incumbent upon the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to undertake a review of reliability standards.
Thank you for your consideration of this request and we look forward to your reply.
United States Senator
United States Senator