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CPBJ Extra Blog

Talking to the seat of power

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It's not every day you get to talk to a power company president.

On Wednesday, Central Penn Business Journal editor Hope Stephan and I had the chance to interview Greg Dudkin, PPL Electric Utilities president. Dudkin, along with Dana Ferber, PPL's regional operations director for the Harrisburg and Lancaster regions, and Paul Wirth, PPL's transmission communications senior manager, had just come from the Hilton in downtown Harrisburg, where they talked with the Harrisburg Regional Chamber of Commerce.

It was the first stop on a tour of towns in the company's 27-county service area. Dudkin, Farber, Wirth and others from PPL are giving presentations on what's been done to improve reliability and prevent outages, as well as to get feedback from the community.

Dudkin was very earnest in his descriptions of what PPL has done, especially about making systems more automatic and tree trimming — a simple act that can save many, MANY headaches come snow and ice season.

I liked Dudkin. He's a mechanical engineer, and engineers are usually inquisitive, kind of like reporters.

And some good press is likely welcome.

Back in August, PPL Electric agreed to pay a $60,000 fine to the state Public Utility Commission to settle a public utility code violation alleged in a letter concerning the response to a snowstorm in October 2011. As part of the settlement, PPL and PUC agreed to keep confidential the violation details — including the letter.

Since the "P" in PUC stands for "public," several news organizations appealed to the state Open Records Office to have that letter and other pertinent documents released. The open records office agreed the documents were public, but PUC has appealed that decision to Commonwealth Court.

Twelve news organizations in the state have joined to fight that appeal.

Like I said, it's not every day you get to talk to the president of a power company. So I asked Dudkin about the PUC situation. He said the incident was a mistake and stressed that it wouldn't happen again.

"Do you consider that ($60,000) a large fine?" Stephan asked. Keep in mind the company earned $1.13 billion in 2013.

"I thought it was a lot of money," Dudkin said.

By comparison, in January, West Penn Power Co. agreed to pay an $86,000 fine after a PUC investigation into the company's handling of an incident that resulted in the death of a western Pennsylvania woman.

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