Obama Confers With Utilities CEOs on Storm Preparedness

President Barack Obama met with chief executives of utility companies and their affiliated lobby groups on minimizing power disruptions during major storms like those that occurred in the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy.

The closed meeting at the Energy Department was billed by the White House as a discussion on “lessons learned” since last year’s storm as the June 1 start of the U.S. hurricane season approaches. The administration didn’t release a list of those invited to the meeting.

Sandy hit Oct. 29 with hurricane-force winds and flooding that killed more than 125 people in 10 states. It ravaged shore communities from New Jersey’s Atlantic City to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Thousands of homes and businesses were left in the dark for weeks afterward.

An above-average hurricane season is expected this year, with 18 named storms compared with the 30-year average of 12, researchers at Colorado State University said April 10.

There’s a 72 percent chance of at least one major hurricane of Category 3 or higher making landfall on the U.S. coastline this year, compared with a 42 percent chance in 2012, researchers said.

In addition to causing deaths and damage to homes and businesses, hurricanes can delay freight, disrupt communications and create havoc for transportation companies.

Storm Damage

Insurance claims from Sandy reached $18.8 billion in New York and New Jersey, making it the third-costliest storm in U.S. history, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Damage to electric utilities was in the hundreds of millions.

Some utilities are seeking rate increases, while others aim to offset costs with lower-priced natural gas or recoverable investments to help consumers conserve energy.

Ralph Izzo, chairman and chief executive officer of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., New Jersey’s largest utility, has said that the epic storm would cost the utility as much as $300 million in damages.

One of the big issues for utilities is aging infrastructure, according to Samuel Brothwell, a Bloomberg Industries utility analyst. “A lot of the electrical distribution infrastructure looks very similar to what you saw in the early part of the 20th century.”

“We’ve not come up with the cellphone equivalent.”

Many utilities, he said, are looking to beef up their surveillance of the electrical grid.

“You can’t stop storms but you can respond more quickly if you know where the trouble spots are.”