Residents Seek Damages From Power Company

Residents Seek Damages From Power Company

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Four residents have asked the Utah Public Service Commission to order PacifiCorp to pay damages to all Wasatch Front residents who suffered prolonged power outages during last December's storms.

The petition filed Thursday asks commissioners to impose penalties of $40 million to $160 million, roughly $500 to $2,000 for each of the 80,000 customers who experienced outages of more than 24 hours.

The four residents said they went without electricity for at least three days. Some residents were without power for as long as five days.

David Irvine, a former PSC member and one of the attorneys who brought the action, said, "Clearly it would be to the benefit of customers to have the commission deal with all of these in one fell swoop rather than require individual customers to go to court on their own."

Irvine said he will ask the PSC to keep jurisdiction of the case and treat it as a class action. Should the commission turn down the petition, Irvine may file a complaint in district court.

Utah Power spokesman Kimball Hansen said the company still is preparing its final report on the outages and expects to give to the commission in May.

In February, Utah Power handed out goodwill credits of $100 to $200 to 13,871 customers who went without electricity for 48 hours or longer. Those credits cost the company $1.9 million.

Irvine said PacifiCorp should be penalized further because it failed to perform adequate maintenance of its lines and distribution system and to trim trees and maintain poles.

"The Dec. 26 power outage was not an instance of ... an act of God or a 'major event' over which PacifiCorp had no control," the petition said. "Other power systems along the Wasatch Front did not experience the same outage severity or extended duration. ... In Bountiful, for example (which operates its own municipal system), the longest outage experienced by any customer was 24 hours."

He contends the alleged deficiencies violated PacifiCorp's 1989 merger order with Utah Power and Light. Under that agreement, PacifiCorp promised that no Utah Power and Light employee would lose his or her job as a result of the merger and that reductions through attrition would not impair quality of service, maintenance or safety.

"The entire accounting, engineering and computer departments have been transferred to Portland, losing a few hundred jobs to the Utah economy," the petition states. "This is completely inconsistent with representations that (Utah Power and Light) would function as a 'sister division,' having 'the kind of decentralization which encourages responsiveness to Utah customers and cost control by local managers.' "

From Dec. 25 to Dec. 27, the storm dumped up 60 inches of snow fell on northern Utah, with Salt Lake and Davis counties particularly hard hit. It knocked out knocked out power to roughly 100,000 customers.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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