Tuesday, June 28, 2011

GEF Analysis of PSC Case 10-E-0155 Guidelines

The GEF LORAX Working Group has completed an initial review of the recent guidelines issued by the NYSPSC in Case 10-E-0155. The following concerns are raised - some of which may be resolved procedurally, but others of which may require updated or clarified guidelines, or perhaps legislative action:


General Comments
Guidelines do not address the full set of 9 Commission questions originally posed in Case 10-E-0155 last year. (Example, little discussion of “best practices” is provided.)

Guidelines are often vague and too much is left open for interpretation by individual utilities.

Integration with previous Order (04-E-0822) is weak at best. (Previous order is appended to new order. Is it clear how and where 10-E-0155 supersedes the previous 2005 order in all areas of potential interpretive conflict?) <-- Further study required to document apparent conflicts.


Notification
All utilities in NYS should be included in notification requirements.

Need to spell out more clearly what actions allow short term (30 day) and what actions need long term (up to 180 day) notification.

Utilities should be required to provide 90 day 'public notice' to municipalities when they plan to do VM work. This notice could then be read at board meetings, posted on municipal web sites, etc. Allows time for public meetings.

Missing requirement to ensure demarcation of ROW (easement, trees to be removed, danger trees) in advance of on-site meetings with landowners.

Better, more timely notification to abutting landowners is required for herbicide application cycles. Special exemptions from herbicide IVM required for agricultural lands, esp. those intended for "organic" production.


Mitigation
Needs more detail and criteria regarding replanting and other forms of mitigation. Must eliminate any utility "opt out" loop holes.

Lack of any science-based analysis (eg: bio survey) of ROW as a basis for determining areas of exclusion (buffers, habitat) and required mitigation.

Lack of discussion of tree valuation and ecosystem services (again as a basis for mitigation).

Lack of surety (performance) bonds for mitigation practices.

Rate payers, adjacent property owners and municipalities should not be expected to cover the costs for mitigation and repair. Other means of covering the costs need to be found (i.e. percentage of utility’s annual net profit).

Minimizing the need for mitigation (ie: minimizing negative impacts at the time of work) should be the focus - not extracting even higher rates from ratepayers.

No explicit requirement for arbitration in the case of landowner disagreement with proposed work.


High Density ROWs
All utilities in NYS should be included in development of special case ROW management programs for sensitive areas (e.g.: park lands and preserves), not only "high density" populated areas.

Need clear guidelines for TVMP alternatives concerning agricultural lands (to safeguard human health and the farmers’ ability to fully utilize their land), as well as for other "special use" areas (e.g.; parks and recreation areas), as well.


Previous Damages (2004-2010)
No mention of restitution and mitigation for those homeowners who suffered adverse impacts. Many areas still need repair. ("For most of us, the bulk of our equity is in our homes. Some of us have been rendered properties that can never be sold again because of what Con Edison did on their adjacent property.")


TVM Techniques
No specific recommendations on new VM practices such as "on demand" response (via LIDAR and GIS system mapping).

No discussion of urgency in managing invasive plants and animal populations (white tail deer).

No discussion of the need to monitor work sites for proper DEC stormwater and erosion controls. (Or in the case of DEP Aqueduct lands, the need to ensure water course and water body buffers are maintained and not compromised.)

Need to define alternative methods of IVM and need to ensure conformance to new guidelines supporting reduced vegetation removal in order to phase out reliance on the excessive use of herbicides.

Unfortunately, current level of DPS staffing does not allow for robust monitoring by PSC of any utility's work. This defaults to "self-monitoring" and "self-reporting" - which has not worked in the past.


Complaint Resolution & Arbitration
PSC complaint & arbitration has left a lot to be desired over the last few years. Most testimonial from both the public and municipal officials in Case 10-E-0155 hearings clearly indicated they they were not satisfied in the process. There needs to be improved accountability and responsiveness regarding complaint arbitration procedures.

There needs to be an "on the spot" dispute resolution process. Otherwise, extended delay is handling complaint may be "after the fact" and the damage will have been done. Related: what if utility strays from its stated plan? There should be a "stop work" order until such complications can be investigated and resolved.

Utility fines for non-compliance with TVMPs or these guidelines should be clearly indicated and implemented in a timely manner.


Updated TVMPs
Recommendation #4 needs particular attention due to the push back by the TOs against the publishing of their VM plans for security and proprietary concerns. Some NYS TOs publish TVMPs un-redacted (such as O&R), while others (Con Ed) make it difficult to even get hold of their heavily redacted TVMP without a FOIL.

There needs to be some sort of public comment / oversight on the new TVMPs. (LORAX would be willing to provide review and feedback of these so as to ensure landowner and municipal concerns were addressed.)

Currently approved (in process) TVMP cycles should not continue without review and conformance to new guidelines. The utilities should not be allowed to simply "finish the cycle" before addressing concerns such as modified wz/bz, high density ROWS, and preservation of buffers.


New Technologies
Need a NYSPSC or Federal directive and pilot project funding support for utilities to embrace new technologies which help to prevent widespread blackouts (e.g.; Smart Grid).


Federal Guidelines
PSC needs to work with NERC/FERC to try to renormalize fines dealing with vegetation encroachment so as to reduce pressure to simply "clear cut".


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A pdf of this analysis can be downloaded here.