CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As West Virginians deal with the aftermath of a series of thunderstorms that swept through the state over the last two weeks, state regulators are quietly considering the first targets for how utilities should minimize power outages and quickly get electricity back on for their customers.
But officials from the state Public Service Commission's staff and Consumer Advocate Division are concerned that plans proposed by the industry will do little to improve the reliability of West Virginia's electrical system.
Just 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.
Walker's report was filed with the commission on June 14, two weeks before much of West Virginia was pounded by a "derecho" that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of residents -- many for a week or more.
Since January, utilities, PSC staff and other parties have been debating in commission filings proposals for power companies to comply with new agency rules aimed at setting electrical system reliability targets.
The targets are based on three indices that grade how frequently electrical systems go down, how long those systems are down, and how long customers themselves go without power.
West Virginia was one of only 12 states listed in a 2005 Edison Electric Institute study as having no targets for utility reliability as well as no requirement for power companies to report reliability data to the PSC.
It's not clear when the PSC will finalize West Virginia's new reliability targets.
Utility officials said they aren't sure how the case will turn out, but argued in PSC filings that staff and consumer advocate proposals for tougher reliability standards are not achievable. Some utilities also argued for company-by-company standards, rather than statewide targets.
"We're still working our way through that proceeding to try to reach a point of agreement," said Jeri Matheney, a spokeswoman for Appalachian Power. "We need targets that, if not achieved now, are achievable at some point."
The lack of reliability standards came to light most recently in 2010, when the commission investigated widespread blackouts across West Virginia following a winter storm in mid-December 2009.