At a recent board meeting, Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) trustees voiced their frustration over persistent computer system problems that have haunted the utility since Tropical Storm Isaias. They criticized PSEG (Public Service Enterprise Group) for failing to send a representative to address these issues in person.
The trustees were briefed on the latest findings from a LIPA Isaias task force, which highlighted “failures” in PSEG’s testing protocols for a newly implemented computer system designed to manage customer outages. The cost of this work has reached $45 million since the storm occurred.
LIPA’s report, initially reported by Newsday, pointed out that it was “difficult to tell whether the outage-management system works as it should” after revealing that 36% of LIPA’s own tests, conducted using PSEG’s testing methodology, had failed due to “inadequate documentation, poorly written test scripts, and scripts that clearly do not work.”
In response to the report, PSEG disputed its findings, claiming that it had “successfully executed and completed all testing” using “industry best-practices under the observation of LIPA” and New York State regulators.
These LIPA tests serve as a prelude to comprehensive system stress tests that are crucial to ensuring the functionality of PSEG’s newly installed computer system. This system was plagued by failures during Tropical Storm Isaias, leaving 535,000 customers without power for up to a week.
The trustees expressed their deep concern over the continued uncertainty surrounding the system’s reliability. LIPA Vice Chairman Mark Fischl stated, “This is just terrifying that we’re two years removed and can have a storm next week, and we don’t have a functional outage management system.”
LIPA’s CEO, Tom Falcone, emphasized that test failures do not necessarily indicate the system’s overall functionality. PSEG has asserted that the new system performed adequately during recent heatwaves that caused numerous outages.
Falcone remarked, “Effectively, we don’t know if it’s functional or not. We’re not saying it doesn’t work, we’re not saying it does work… We don’t know.”
PSEG contended that LIPA’s testing issues stemmed from an inability to execute the test scripts without assistance and maintained that its tests were designed for individuals with a strong understanding of business processes and outage management system operation. PSEG pledged to continue offering support, training, and assistance to LIPA and its consultants.
One task force member, Osman Ahmad, characterized PSEG’s explanation as a “rationalization” and argued that industry-standard tests should be executable “independently” by individuals other than the developers.
Perhaps most frustrating for the LIPA trustees was the absence of PSEG officials at the board meeting to address their concerns directly. Trustee Elkan Abramowitz noted that LIPA’s contract stipulates that PSEG officials must be present “if requested” and called for their attendance at every board meeting in the future.
Sheldon Cohen, another trustee, echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of PSEG’s accountability and the need for their presence at “every meeting at a minimum.”
During a board committee meeting earlier in the day, Fischl had raised questions about PSEG’s staffing levels in computer technology. PSEG had reported being $4.1 million under budget in 2022 due to open vacancies in information technology and strategic planning & analytics.
Greg Filipkowski, Chief Information Officer for PSEG Long Island, assured that the company was making progress in filling these vacancies and actively recruiting for permanent positions. In the interim, they were utilizing outside consulting resources to ensure the work continued.
He explained, “It is a tight labor market. There’s a high demand for technology people. We are making good progress, but we are backfilling with consultants during the time we are recruiting for those permanent positions.”
The concerns raised by LIPA trustees underscore the importance of addressing and resolving the lingering computer system issues to ensure the reliability of the power grid in the face of future challenges.