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Utility execs tell Pennsylvania lawmakers power-restoration response was excellent

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:44 p.m.

HARRISBURG - It may not have felt that way to the more than 1 million Pennsylvania customers whose electricity was knocked out by superstorm Sandy, but the nine-day effort to restore power was an overall success, state regulators and top executives of the hardest-hit utilities told lawmakers on Wednesday.

"The story we have to tell is a positive one, with hundreds of thousands of customers having their power restored within a remarkably short period of time," Robert Powelson, chairman of the state Public Utility Commission, told a Senate panel.

While Pennsylvania escaped the devastation experienced by New York and New Jersey, executives from PECO, PPL Electric Utilities and FirstEnergy said Sandy was far more damaging to poles, wires and transformers than any of the state's considerable 2011 weather emergencies: Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and a freak October snowstorm.

More than 1.5 million customers in the eastern half of the state lost power at some point after the storm struck on Oct. 30, including 1.2 million who were without electricity at its peak, according to the PUC. Nearly all service was restored by Nov. 8, Powelson said.

The utility officials, who narrated video presentations for members of the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee, said last year's events shaped improvements evident in the response to the latest storm. They cited better planning, increased cooperation with state agencies and enhanced communications with customers.

All three companies reported using social media to keep their customers informed.

PPL Electric Utilities President Gregory Dudkin said the number of its Twitter followers increased by nearly 90 percent and its Facebook community expanded by more than 13,000. The overall public sentiment was positive by more than 3-to-1, he said.

The committee chairman, Sen. Robert Tomlinson, agreed the power-restoration effort was top-notch, but said the panel will hold a follow-up hearing on ways to improve relations with customers and local officials to avoid future misunderstandings about utility work.

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