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Clarkson University’s Collins appointed to board investigating state utilities

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POTSDAM — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is reaching far across the state to fill a board investigating New York utilities’ resilience and response to large fall storms.

Clarkson University President Anthony G. Collins has been appointed to a commission to investigate and study utilities’ storm readiness and management after the Oct. 29 landfall of Hurricane Sandy, which brought high winds and more than 13 feet of storm surge into New York City and Long Island.

“I think it is important that we get onto this as quickly as possible because this is an event fresh in people’s minds,” he said. “You want to know why the grid isn’t more resilient to the weather. We need to understand and give definition to the questions you want answered.”

The hurricane struck hundreds of miles away in New Jersey, but Mr. Cuomo looked statewide for the 10-member commission, including to the north country — and for good reason. Mr. Collins said the appointment plays into the governor’s vision of transforming the north country into an energy exporter.

“I think it is farsighted that the governor would reach out to someone in the north country, where we foresee building wind, solar and biomass energy,” he said. “The region has an interest in making sure our concerns are understood in creating a better grid and capacity to respond in the future to problems.”

Due to a warming climate, Mr. Collins said, fierce coastal storms like hurricanes will affect New York with greater frequency. “We need to be ready to respond to what negative impacts may occur to the power systems, what negatives can occur and learn how we would respond knowing we can expect these kinds of events to occur more frequently,” he said.

As utilities restored service to the final pockets of Long Island households without power after Hurricane Sandy’s impact, Mr. Cuomo called for the commission. The storm cut service to 2.2 million New York households.

Long Island Power Authority Chief Operating Officer Michael D. Hervey resigned Tuesday amid criticism from customers and state officials that his agency was slow to respond to the storm.

After the slow response, Mr. Cuomo formed the commission, giving it powers to subpoena witnesses. The commission’s findings could translate into legislation next year.

“I believe something like this is going to happen again,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I think we need to be better prepared. We need to learn from it.”

New York’s power grid has struggled to weather a series of strong autumn storms, including Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. This year, utilities have taken more than two weeks in some places to reconnect power.

“We have aging infrastructure. We know that the weather seems to becoming more severe, and if you put all that together, the question becomes is there a better, more organized way of responding to make the response more efficient,” he said.

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