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November 23, 2020

New: Voluntary Reporting to the Public Utility Commission of Significant Interruptions

PUC Recently Concludes Outage Reporting Protocols
The Public Utility Commission of Texas has requested that municipal utilities provide the Commission with improved situational awareness in the event of significant interruptions on a utility’s system.  In response to the PUC’s request, the Board of Directors of TPPA adopted a resolution on May 11, 2020 “strongly encouraging [that] each of its members acknowledge the public benefit that can be achieved by a comprehensive outage reporting program and report voluntarily to the PUC in the event of a significant interruption of electric service…”  

TPPA worked with the PUC and other stakeholders, including transmission system operators and electric cooperatives, throughout Summer and Fall 2020 to ultimately achieve these workable new processes without the need of legislative intervention.

Both TPPA and the PUC recognize that a municipal utility should follow the utility’s internal outage communication guidelines and processes in determining when to report a significant interruption to the Commission.

Why does the Public Utility Commission want this Information?

The Public Utility Commission is requesting that municipal utilities report voluntarily about significant interruptions for improved situational awareness by the Commission.  The Commission shares this information with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).  Situational awareness by State authorities—including TDEM—of instances when customers experience electric utility service interruptions allows State authorities to assess the need for and deploy emergency resources to communities served by Public Power. 

What is a Significant Interruption?

For a municipal utility system, there is no single definition of a significant interruption.  This is different for Investor-owned Utilities (IOUs).  Under rules of the PUC, an IOU is required to report to the Commission when a significant interruption occurs on its system.  For IOUs, a significant interruption is defined as an interruption lasting at least an hour that affects a significant portion of a utility system, a community, or critical load.  A significant interruption includes loss of service to 20 percent of the system’s customers or 20,000 customers for utilities with 200,000 customers or more.  A significant interruption may also include interruptions affecting governmental agencies, military bases, schools, and major employers. 

The municipal utilities operating in Texas are a diverse group.  There is no single definition of the term “significant interruption” that makes sense for all municipal utilities.  Each utility should rely on its internal guidelines and processes in determining whether an outage qualifies as a significant interruption that should be reported to the PUC.  For any utility, loss of the entire system is a significant interruption that should be reported.  Larger utilities may determine that a significant interruption is defined by the number of customers without service or by a share of system.  Certainly, in the event of a natural disaster such as a hurricane, or even storms that yield significant system damage, a report should be sent to the Commission.  Also, loss of a key customer, for example a military facility, regional hospital or airport, may be classified as a significant interruption for reporting to the Commission. 

How do I Report a Significant Interruption to the Public Utility Commission?

The Commission has set up an email address for receiving reports of significant interruptions.  Reports should be sent to outages@puc.texas.gov.  In many cases, a utility may already be reporting to local government officials, first responders, and local media in the event of a significant interruption. Notice to the PUC can simply be added to your existing contact list.

What Information Should be Included in the Report?

For a municipal utility system, there is no pre-defined set of information to be reported to the PUC for a significant interruption.  This is again different for IOUs.  Under rules of the PUC, an IOU is required to report the following information as soon as reasonably possible after each significant interruption:
  • The general location of the significant interruption,
  • The approximate number of customers affected,
  • The cause if known,
  • The time the event occurred,
  • The estimated time to full restoration,
  • The name and telephone number for a utility contact person, and
  • Whether local authorities and media are aware of the outage.
In many cases, a municipal utility may already be reporting to local governmental officials, first responders, and local media in the event of a significant interruption.  Keep reporting simple by building on existing internal guidelines and processes.

Will This be a Lot of Effort for My Utility?

Reporting a significant interruption to the PUC is a simple step in the event of an outage, but it may require some time spent in preparation and planning.  Many utilities have an existing outage communication plan that determines “when, what, who and how” to get informed in the event of an outage.  If an outage communication plan is already in place, the plan can be reviewed and modified to ensure that reporting to the PUC is incorporated when a significant interruption occurs.  If your utility does not have an outage communication plan, consider documenting your outage communications process by developing a simple plan. 

What Should an Outage Communication Plan Look Like?

An outage communication plan can be as simple as a one-page matrix listing “when, what, who and how” to get informed:
  • When:  define the system conditions that should be reported, e.g., loss of entire system, loss of X percent of system, outage affecting a key customer like a military facility, regional hospital, airport, or governmental offices, etc.;
  • What:  list the items that will be reported, e.g., the time of the event, the number of customers affected, and the estimated time to restoration;
  • Who:  list of officials to be contacted, e.g., municipal offices, public safety, local media outlets, and the PUC;
  • How:  lists of email addresses, phone numbers, social media accounts, website, or other means used to make contact.
Your plan can include sample messages to be used in the event of an outage.

Each utility should develop its outage communication plan based on its own internal guidelines and processes for determining whether an outage constitutes a significant interruption.  Like any key function at your utility, it is important to document processes, train, and practice.  Be sure to review and update the plan after an event. 

Contacts in the Event of a Significant Interruption or other Emergency

One key to your communications in the event of a significant interruption is keeping your contact information up to date.  As part of your plan, establish a process to periodically review that emergency contacts are up to date.  There are several sets of contacts to review and update:
  • TTPA:  TPPA maintains a contact list for all member utilities.  Be sure that your communications and emergency operations contacts are up to date.
  • The PUC:  The PUC maintains a contact list used by the Commission for emergency and other communications.  You can find the PUC contact list for the municipal utility sector at the following web address:  PUC Municipal Contact List.
  • Interconnected Wires Companies:  As significant interruptions can result from interruptions on interconnected systems, be sure to maintain an up to date list of contacts at all interconnected utilities, including transmission providers, and ensure that your organization’s contacts are maintained by interconnected utilities. 
Thanks to TPPA's Government Relations and Legal Committee for reviewing the various proposed processes leading to TPPA Board of Directors' endorsement. TPPA appreciates the PUC's approach to resolving this important communication issue in such a productive, efficient manner.

Please note: these new outage reporting communications are effective immediately.

TPPA is available to assist any utility developing or modifying its outage communication guidelines and other measures to be in compliance with these new voluntary guidelines. 
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