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Senate Energy Committee Holds Hearing on Extreme Weather Outages at Request of Shaheen and Colleagues

CAPTION: U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) spoke with Tom Getz, former Chairman of the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, after today’s hearing. (April 26, 2012. Washington, DC)

(Washington, DC) – A documented increase in severe weather-related power outages in New Hampshire and across the country demands a coordinated response from regulators and the power industry, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said today. Shaheen pressed witnesses during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing that was held at the request of Shaheen and other New England senators in the wake of Hurricane Irene and last year’s Northeast October snowstorm that left millions without power for weeks.

“New Hampshire families and businesses expect that when they flip the switch, their lights will go on. I am deeply concerned about the significant and sustained weather-related outages that have occurred across New England regularly over the past several years,” Shaheen said after the hearing. “It’s clear from the data that this trend is increasing, and we have to be sure that federal, state and local officials are working together to address it properly.”

The committee hearing, “Weather-Related Electrical Outages,” focused on electric grid reliability in the face of hurricanes, tornadoes, and other severe weather.  Shaheen asked witnesses whether industry and regulators are responding appropriately, and communicating effectively, to ensure that electric grids remain reliable in the face of a documented rise in severe weather-related outages. The hearing also focused on the threat that outages pose to public safety and local economies.

The October snowstorm left more than two million utility customers without power in New England, including 315,000 in New Hampshire.

Tom Getz, who served as Chairman of the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (NHPUC) during last year’s October snowstorm, was among today’s witnesses.  Getz testified that since 2008 there have been four extreme weather events that greatly affected the reliability of the electric system in New Hampshire, and that each surpassed any previous storm in the state’s history in terms of the number of customers who experienced power outages. 

Shaheen questioned Getz about whether New Hampshire is getting enough leadership and assistance from federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, in preparing for reliability challenges.

In addition to Getz, witnesses included Patricia Hoffman, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability; Norman Bay, Director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Enforcement; and John Bilda, General Manger of Norwich Public Utilities in Connecticut.

Video of the hearing can be viewed here: