BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Entergy officials told Louisiana's utility regulators Wednesday that the company is working to improve communication with its customers, after complaints about lengthy outages and inadequate updates after Hurricane Isaac.
"We can do a better job of getting information out ahead of the storm and setting better expectations for the duration," said Bill Mohl, president and CEO of Entergy Louisiana LLC and Entergy Gulf States Louisiana LLC, which have more than one million customers in the state.
He said the company must remind people that after a Category 1 hurricane like Isaac, they need to be prepared to be without power for a week. He also said the utility needs to provide more detailed information about restoration efforts in individual neighborhoods so people can track progress.
But Mohl also defended the utility's restoration work after Isaac as he spoke to the Public Service Commission, which is investigating power companies' preparation for and response to the August storm and considering whether to level any penalties against them.
"We believe it was a good restoration, 90 percent of customers restored within five days," Mohl said.
More than 900,000 utility customers, or 43 percent of homes and businesses, were left without electricity after Isaac crawled ashore Aug. 28 in south Louisiana, bringing days of high winds, rain and flooding. Entergy's customers made up 787,000 of the 903,000 who lost power.
Commissioner Eric Skrmetta of Metairie, who represents some of the parishes hardest hit by the storm and pushed for the investigation, pressed for details about Entergy's contracts for utility restoration workers, logistical planning and tree-trimming standards.
"Hurricane Isaac caused a great furor and a lot of people are very upset," said Commissioner Lambert Boissiere III, of New Orleans. "I'm not blaming you for it yet. We have to figure it out."
Dennis Dawsey, vice president of transmission and distribution operations for Entergy Louisiana, said more than 10,000 workers were called in to help restore power after Isaac.
To strengthen the power grid in recent years, Dawsey said the company increased the diameter of its utility poles in coastal areas to withstand stronger wind speeds and changed the way it protects utility poles against decay and insects.
Boissiere said questions remaining in the PSC investigation of Entergy include whether logistics to move workers and utility trucks into the area are as smooth as possible, whether the utility infrastructure is tough enough and whether it was properly maintained before Isaac.
"We need to make sure our system is as hardened as it should be," he said.
Skrmetta said the PSC can assess penalties if a utility companies' actions are deemed flawed, including: requiring a company's shareholders to pay for all or part of the recovery costs rather than customers, requiring a company to give billing credits to customers, levying a fine against a company for poor performance or revoking a franchise license.
Entergy estimates its damages from Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana could top $400 million.
Copyright 2012* Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Posted on Fri, October 26, 2012