Democratic Lawmakers Host Hearing on Electricity Outages, Reliability, and Preparedness

Harrisburg – September 29, 2020 – The Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a virtual public hearing today at the request of Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D- Bucks) to focus on electricity outages, reliability and preparedness.

“At the end of the day, we need to know that Pennsylvanians will have access to reliable electric service,” Santarsiero said. “Electricity reliability is not a new issue, but one that we have seen consistently worsen, particularly as we’ve seen a rise in the number of storms that pack high winds and hard downpours.  Year-round electric reliability and preparedness is vital to the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians, and an issue that must be addressed both by the industry itself and the agencies that regulate it.”

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, added, “It is important that we do all we can to assure that power outages are as limited as possible. We also need to make sure our utility and emergency service providers are ready to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible in times of crisis. Ensuring consumers have adequate and potentially lifesaving access to electricity in their homes is essential.”

The Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) announced in their 2019 Electric Service Reliability Report that a total of 52 “reportable outage events” disrupted electric service to residents and businesses across the state. This is the highest number of recorded incidents in Pennsylvania since the PUC began collecting reliability data in 1993. 

Reportable power outage events have mainly been driven by severe thunderstorms during the spring and fall. These events interrupted service to 1,988,188 customers last year according to the PUC’s latest Electric Service Reliability Report. These incidents are different from previous spikes in outage figures that were driven by a small number of high-impact storms, like hurricanes or severe winter storms.

The PUC report said that the increase in severe weather events combined with many electric distribution companies (EDCs) performance metrics being rated as “poor” in 2019, calls into question the reliability performance and resilience of the overall Pennsylvania electrical distribution system.

“Following up on the Electric Service Reliability Report, Commission staff will be meeting with the EDCs in October to discuss overall electric reliability and options for improvement through available regulatory tools,” Gladys Brown Dutrieuille, chairman of the PUC, said.

Dutrieuille said that in instances where extreme weather is known to be heading towards Pennsylvania, the PUC increases their efforts to be ready at all levels and will continue working through regulatory measures to make sure the EDC performance in these areas improve.

“If the impending weather event appears to be of a significant impact to the Commonwealth, the Commission works with PEMA and other state and federal agencies on preparation. Commission Emergency Preparedness Staff also work with the EDCs and other jurisdictional lifeline utilities (water, wastewater, telephone, and natural gas) to understand their preparations and to capture any unmet needs,” Dutrieuille continued.

Electric service provider representatives also all stated that the number one reason for power outages in Pennsylvania is downed trees. Vegetation management is essential in mitigating disruptions in electric services.

“Changing weather patterns in our region has led to an increased growth rate in the vegetation in proximity to our transmission and distribution facilities. To reduce disruptions in service, our Vegetation Management team has consistently minimized on-ROW (Right-of-Way) vegetation,” Kevin Walker, Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of Duquesne Light Company, said. “We are constantly examining these challenges, evaluating strategies, and working to mitigate the off- ROW tree problems in our service territory.”

Stephanie R. Raymond, Vice President of Distribution Operations at PPL also said that it is technological upgrades such as Smart Grids and tracking outages through data rather than reacting to them once they have already occurred, that will continue to allow electric service providers to improve consistent and reliable service.

However, Nicole LeVine, Vice President of Electric Operations at PECO said that just this year, “…we have experienced one of the most challenging storm years ever – including two of the ten most destructive storms in our company’s history two months apart.”

Santarsiero said that due to the serve weather instances this year, his office put out an informal survey within his district and found that anecdotally, “51% of respondents indicated that they lose power any time there is a significant weather event and 77% of respondents indicated that they lose power for more than 4 hours at a time.”

Santarsiero continued, “No one is calling for perfect, as wonderful as perfection would be.  Ultimately, we have to make that balance of what is reasonable and what isn’t.  Where we are today is a different place than where we were 20 years ago.  Redefining what that means in the new context is the challenge that each utility and the PUC will have to grapple with.” 

Boscola, who has chaired the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure for almost two decades, said how important utility reliability and access is for Pennsylvania customers, especially in times of severe and unpredictable weather and as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tanya McCloskey, Acting Consumer Advocate for the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate said that ensuring continuous and reliable electric service is necessary to ensuring the safety of consumers and the public, especially this winter as more consumers shelter at home for health reasons and remain at home for work and school as we continue to battle against the spread of COVID-19.

“It is important that the types of investments we heard about to be made and the long term plans we heard about today are put into place to make electricity more reliable. I hope this is a continuation of the conversation, not the end of it, since we have a lot of work that needs to be done,” concluded Santarsiero.

The following testified at today’s hearing:

  • Stephen Bennett, Manager, Regulatory/Legislative Affairs, PJM Interconnection – View Testimony
  • Terry Fitzpatrick, President & CEO, Energy Association of Pennsylvania – View Testimony
  • Nicole LeVine, Vice President, Electric Operations, PECO – View Testimony
  • Stephanie R. Raymond, Vice President – Distribution Operations, PPL – View Testimony
  • Kevin Walker, Vice President & Chief Operations Officer, Duquesne Light Company – View Testimony
  • Scott Wyman, President, Pennsylvania Operations, FirstEnergy – View Testimony
  • Gladys Brown Dutrieuille, Chairman, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission – View Testimony
  • Tanya McCloskey, Acting Consumer Advocate, Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate – View Testimony
  • John Evans, Small Business Advocate, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – View Testimony

Senators who attended today’s hearing include: Jay Costa (D- Allegheny), Larry Farnese (D- Philadelphia), Sharif Street (D- Philadelphia), Tim Kearney (D- Chester/Delaware), and Lindsey Williams (D- Allegheny)

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee has already held numerous hearings regarding COVID-19 related issues in Pennsylvania in the past six months, which can all be found on Senator Boscola’s website.

A full recording of this hearing, and links to all previous hearings, is available at


Senator Santarsiero Co-Hosts Hearing on Impacts of COVID-19 on Historic, Arts and Cultural Industry

BUCKS COUNTY – September 14, 2020 – Two Bucks County cultural institutions were featured in a Senate committee hearing that highlighted the value of historic, arts and cultural organizations to our local and state economies, and the support they need to survive the challenges of the pandemic.

State Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10) today co-hosted the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Hearing on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Arts, Cultural, and Historical Institutions of Pennsylvania.  Two local panelists, Kyle McKoy, President & CEO of the Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle, and Alexander Fraser, Producing Director of the Bucks County Playhouse, provided testimony on the challenges of serving the public during the pandemic. 

“We are so fortunate to have such a robust arts and culture scene here in the 10th state Senate district, but it is clear that these organizations have faced incredible hardship during the pandemic,” said Sen. Santarsiero.  “We heard today about the challenges of hosting in-person performances, exhibits and tours, ensuring adequate fundraising, and issues with navigating the grant process to help keep their doors open and their staff on payroll.  I am committed to ensuring there is continued opportunities for funding and resources available for the industry, as they struggle to serve the community in these unprecedented times.”

Sen. Santarsiero pointed to the arts and cultural institutions as vital to our economy and to our community well-being, and he added that if there is a way to resume live performances that can be done safely for the performers, support personnel and audience, then it should be done.

“The public and private sectors have responded in tremendous ways to support charitable organizations. A key shift in giving has been the increased focus on the need for nonprofit entities to receive general operating support,” McKoy testified. “Just like the for-profit sector, there is a cost for doing business for not for profit organizations also–we need to pay people, maintain properties, buildings and offices. In doing so, nonprofits are vital to the health and viability of our local communities. Nonprofits support other businesses—banking and financial services, manufacturing, hospitality, printing, technology, and the list goes on.”

McKoy added that the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle’s combined total economic impact is $13.9 million, in direct, indirect and induced spending for the Doylestown area.  Similarly, Fraser said the Bucks County Playhouse drew over 85,000 visitors to New Hope, generating $10 million to the Pennsylvania economy last year.

“Like all performing arts institutions, today, the Playhouse is fighting to stay alive.  As a young nonprofit organization with no endowment, the Playhouse is particularly vulnerable,” testified Fraser. “Please allow theatres to resume indoor performances with prudent safety guidelines such as the allowance of 50% occupancy for in-door restaurants.”

The full video of the hearing is available here.


State Senate Policy Committee Holds Hearing on Child Custody Issues 

LOWER MAKEFIELD October 17, 2019 – At the request of state Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-10), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on Santarsiero’s SB 868, or “Kayden’s Law,” which would provide children in the family court system with greater legal protections by adding to the evidence judges consider in making custody and visitation decisions. 

“A child’s safety is too often overlooked in custody mandates, instead focusing primarily on parental rights,” Sen. Santarsiero said. “These proceedings, as we’ve seen, can mean the difference between life and death for children in dangerous situations. Pennsylvania must do more to protect the wellbeing of our children involved in custody disputes and Kayden’s Law is that next step.” 

Kayden’s Law is named after 7-year-old Kayden Mancuso of Lower Makefield Township, who was killed by her biological father last year during a court-mandated unsupervised visit. The father was granted unsupervised visitation despite an extensive history of violent behavior and suicidal thoughts. 

State Representatives Tina Davis (D-141) and Perry Warren (D-31) have introduced a companion bill, HB 1587, also known as Kayden’s Law, in the House. 

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-18), who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, added, “The safety of our children – especially in custody proceedings – needs to be a top priority. What is in a child’s best interest is often difficult to determine during these emotionally charged proceedings. Our laws need to make clear that a child’s safety is paramount.” 

A 2017 study conducted by the George Washington University Law School reviewed 4,000 domestic court cases and found that an abuser was given custody or unsupervised visitation 81% of the time. Kayden Mancuso was the 647th child of a divorced or separated parent to be killed in the United States by a parent since 2008. 

“Had the laws protected my child instead of parental rights, she would still be here,” said Kathryn Sherlock, mother of Kayden. “My child was failed by family court.” 

Senate Bill 868 encourages new guidelines for courts in custody and visitation rulings, including establishing an evidentiary hearing to thoroughly vet allegations of abuse, and urging the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to implement an ongoing, evidence-based training program for judges and other relevant court personnel regarding child abuse and domestic violence. 

Danielle Pollack, an ambassador of Child USA, gave lengthy testimony regarding the many instances when children are forced to live with a violent or sexually abusive parent by court order. She said 58,000 children are ordered into the care of abusive parents annually, in many cases because family courts put more emphasis on “reunification” of families as opposed to listening to the allegations of abuse from both parents and children. 

“It is up to us to create this change, using valid evidence-based approaches and enhanced training for judges and court personnel, not mythologies, personal biases, and theories which have no scientific validity,” Pollack said.  

In conclusion, Santarsiero said, “this is step one.” He said in reference to today’s testimony, and the suggestions made by all organizations about how to further training for those involved in child custody proceedings.  

“We need to build public support throughout the state to get this legislation passed,” Santarsiero said.  

Sens. Sharif Street (D- 3), Maria Collett (D- 12), John Sabatina (D- 5), and Katie Muth (D- 44) attended the hearing, as well as state Reps. Perry Warren (D- 31), Tina Davis (D- 141), and Wendy Ullman (D- 143) 

Those who testified at the policy hearing include:  

  • – Kathryn Sherlock, Child Custody Reform Advocate  
  • – Danielle Pollack, Ambassador, Child USA 
  • – Joyce Lukima, Chief Operating Officer, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape 
  • McKenzie Clark, Legal Services Manager, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence 
  • Penny Ettinger, Executive Director, NOVA Bucks 

Video of the hearing can be provided to press upon request, and video of the complete hearing will be posted to after the hearing.  

A copy of SB 868 can be found here