Report: Duquesne Light, Allegheny Power Improve Reliability

Article excerpt

Templeton Smith Jr. threw away $300 worth of steaks, pork filets and other food that thawed when a storm knocked out power to his Mt. Lebanon home for 72 hours.

Even so, he's generally pleased with service from Duquesne Light, the company that delivers electricity to most of Allegheny and Beaver counties.

"Until this," Smith said of the thunderstorm last Friday that darkened more than 150,000 homes and businesses, "we had an outage once in a blue moon."

Duquesne Light ranks second among Pennsylvania's 11 regulated power utilities, in terms of restoring service quickly. Customers of the Downtown-based utility who reported outages last year spent an average 85 minutes without electricity, a 21 percent increase over two years, reports filed with the state show.

The brief storm brought high, and sometimes hurricane-force, wind that toppled thousands of trees and utility poles, some weakened by February's heavy snow. The time-consuming cleanup and line restringing that followed frustrated customers who waited as long as three days to get power back, and underscored how much people count on electricity.

"Reliability is No. 1. Price is important, too, but you can't have it going off all the time because we depend on it too much now," said Smith, who with his wife and two dogs stayed at their chilly, dark house last weekend.

"Even with gas heat, the blower on the furnace didn't work because it's electric," he said. "We put a lot of quilts on the bed."

Criticism of the nation's aging power system has brewed since a widespread, two-day blackout in August 2003 in the northeastern United States and Canada. Nationwide, power interruptions cost customers roughly $79 billion a year. Businesses and industries that suffer outages bear almost all of that cost, a 2006 report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California said.

For one of the 114.3 million residential customers nationwide, a momentary interruption costs $2.18, on average, the report said. A sustained outage costs about $3.

Along with Duquesne Light, Allegheny Power improved its service reliability in recent years after difficulties meeting state benchmarks in the mid-2000s, a state Public Utility Commission report indicates.

The Greensburg-based utility serves Westmoreland, a section of Allegheny and other Western Pennsylvania counties. Its customers who lost power waited an average 166 minutes for restoration last year. Statewide, that's the second worst, although it represents a 20 percent improvement from 2007.

Duquesne Light customers averaged just under one outage last year, slightly better than in 2008. Allegheny Power reported. 0.97 outages per customer last year, down from 1.16 in 2008.

Still, electric utilities can exclude outages from big storms and other troubles beyond their control from the numbers the PUC counts, with the agency's OK. …