Official: Utilities Need Better Customer Communication

HARRISBURG PA – Pennsylvania’s electric utility companies must do a better job of keeping  customers informed when severe storms hit and create power outages, the chairman of the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) testified Tuesday (Oct. 18, 2011) during a meeting of two state Senate committees.

Chairman Robert Powelson told a joint meeting of the Senate Consumer Affairs Committee and Emergency Preparedness Committee that communications with ratepayers must improve, The Pennsylvania Independent online news service reported. His testimony was more sharply critical than earlier comments at a PUC hearing with utility executives who won praise for efforts at restoring power, The Independent said.

Powelson told senators severe storms this summer caused phone systems to be overloaded and left some people without information about when power would be restored. During Hurricane Irene, he said, more than 1.3 million Pennsylvanians lacked electricity, mostly in the state’s southeast and northeast corners. It took more than a week for all customers to have power restored.

“Utilities’ systems for answering customers’ phone calls during outages need to improve, unequivocally,” Powelson testified Tuesday, according to The Independent. “And utilities’ methods for notifying customers during outages should be more technology friendly,” he said.