Last month, PSC staff warned commissioners that utility proposals would simply require companies "to complete work which was neglected for the past 10 years."
"Very little, if any, improvement over the current issues causing outages will change and the infrastructure will continue to deteriorate," wrote Donald E. Walker, a technical analyst with the PSC staff's engineering division.
In his report, Walker cited results of reliability target rules on rural parts of New York, where utilities would face some measure of vegetation, isolation and terrain problems similar to West Virginia.
"The causes for outages loosely track the percentages found in West Virginia," Walker said of the New York data. "Although the percentages of trees and equipment failures causing outages are similar to those in West Virginia, the reliability indices appear to be much better.
"Other states with comparable operating conditions to those found in West Virginia reflect similar statistics found in the New York performance report," Walker wrote. "It is therefore reasonable to expect utilities in our state to achieve the more stringent reliability index targets recommended by staff."
The comparison between West Virginia power outage durations and the national figures was cited Wednesday during a floor speech by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Manchin focused on his complaint that the U.S. should not be spending money on electrical infrastructure improvements in Afghanistan -- where 24 million people have no access to electricity -- while West Virginians remain without power from the recent storms.
But the numbers cited in Manchin's speech came from federal reports that offer suggestions about how states like West Virginia could greatly benefit by implementing a "smart grid" that would use computers and other technology to improve efficiency, reliability, economics and sustainability of the state's electrical system.
"If you apply smart-grid technology, you can make a big difference with reliability," said Steven Pullins, an engineer who contracted for the National Energy Technology Laboratory to study the issue and wrote reports cited in Manchin's speech.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.