Photo: The Indian River Power Plant whose potential sale by Conectiv concerns the Delaware Public Service Commission.
A day after investigators criticized Conectiv's poor planning in a report on power outages and rolling blackouts in Delaware from July 4-6, 1999, the Delaware Public Service Commission voted to launch a full investigation into the causes of the service interruptions and whether the utility is prepared to handle future periods of high usage.
The hearings into Conectiv's operations begin next month and could result in fines or changes in the way Conectiv operates.
On Tuesday, Sept. 28, 1999, DPSC Chairman Robert J. McMahon accused Conectiv officials of stonewalling the panel's investigators.
Conectiv's legal counsel, Peter Clark, said the company needed more time to respond to the commission's allegations because there were numerous errors and mistaken conclusions in the 66-page report submitted to the DPSC by its investigators.
In the investigators' report, released Monday, Sept. 27, 1999, the DPSC investigators said the utility's transmission system in southern Delaware has been inadequate and that the utility has failed to properly forecast and plan for growth loads here.
The report did absolve Conectiv of accusations that improper maintenance procedures and inadequate staffing caused the outages of its No. 2 and 3 units at Indian River.
A power outage on July 4, 1999, left thousands of Sussex County residents and tourists in the dark for varying periods of time, including more than 10 hours in the Cedar Neck area near Ocean View.
Two days later, on July 6, 1999, reeling under the strain of another hot day, Conectiv instituted rolling blackouts in Delaware to conserve power.
The unannounced blackouts affected customers from businesses to residences, with Delmarvans suddenly finding themselves without power at the most inconvenient times -- sitting in a dentist's chair, trying to check out at a store, working on a computer and losing work.
In addition, the investigators said they are very concerned about the potential sale of the Indian River plant in Millsboro due to the transmission constraints in the southern portion of Conectiv's territory.
For its part, Conectiv contends that an unusually long stretch of 100-degree days and resulting increase in air conditioning usage brought its power grid to the brink of disaster, and that the rollouts prevented a complete shutdown of its system that might have taken days to repair.
The investigators recommend a hearing before the full Public Service Commission. The full PSC could fine Conectiv or demand specific changes in the way Conectiv operates.
Criticism of Conectiv
We've known all along that Conectiv's poor planning and implementation of its electrical services were as responsible as the heat wave for the power outages and rolling blackouts that plagued Delmarva residents and tourists in July 1999.
And now the Delaware Public Service Commission has decided to hold full hearings on those same charges against the utility.
Conectiv had problems even before the worst of the heat wave, particularly in the Cedar Neck area near Ocean View, where minor power outages occurred regularly in the weeks leading up to the 10-hour power outage that hit Cedar Neck July 4.
We also agree with the DPSC's investigators that the ensuing rolling blackouts on July 6 that cost local businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars in one of their busiest periods of the year were poorly planned.
Worse yet, Conectiv failed to update its power outage hotline so customers could find out when their power might be turned back on during the power outages of July 4 and when you could reach a human, answering service personnel were unable to provide satisfactory answers.
The fact is, Conectiv should have been better prepared to handle the kind of demand it experienced during the stretch of 100-degree days in July. Conectiv knows how many installations it has and how much power each of those installations requires in periods of peak usage.
We hope the hearings eventually force Conectiv to institute procedures that will prevent such a near catastrophe from occurring again.
You can voice your opinion of the Delaware Public Service Commission report on Conectiv's responsibility for the summer power outages and blackouts in the Sussex County Online forum and by voting in the Sussex County Online Poll. Just follow these links to make your voice heard and your vote count:
The preliminary report on Conectiv from DPSC investigators.
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