PUC seeks $4.5M from Met-Ed after man electrocuted
(Riegelsville, Pa.) — Pennsylvania utility regulators are recommending that power company Metropolitan Edison pay a fine of more than $4.5 million following an investigation into the death of a man in Northampton County electrocuted by a downed live wire in July 2016.
The complaint submitted to the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission board by the commission’s investigation bureau concluded that Met-Ed failed to maintain its transmission lines and to identify defective equipment, putting the public at risk.
On July 26, 2016, Thomas Poynton Jr. went into the backyard of his Williams Township home near Riegelsville after hearing an explosion, according to officials. The 32-year-old teacher never touched the downed 34,500-volt transmission line but was electrocuted and killed by the charged ground around it, officials said. One of Poynton’s dogs was also killed and the house caught fire.
Investigators said the wrong clamps had been used to secure the wire on the substation next to Poynton’s home and a system meant to automatically cut power to fallen lines had failed.
They cited a March 2004 company document from Met-Ed’s parent company FirstEnergy Corp, specifying that the clamps were to be used on copper lines, not aluminum lines like those in Poynton’s backyard, according to LehighValley.com. Investigators called for the company to be fined $1,000 a day dating back to that March 5, 2004 document, making up the bulk of the requested civil penalty of more than $4.5 million, the news outlet reported.
Investigators said it’s unclear if improper clamps have been installed elsewhere in the service area so they have also called for a program to identify and replace them and to replace defective ground fault equipment.
The complaint will be heard by an administrative law judge barring a settlement between the PUC and Met-Ed, commission spokesman David Hixton told The (Allentown) Morning Call.
Todd Myers, the spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp, said in a statement that the complaint is being reviewed and that the company plans to file a response by Aug. 12.
“While Met-Ed cannot comment on pending litigation, we are dedicated to providing safe and reliable electric service throughout our service territory,” Myers said.
In addition to the civil penalties, investigators are seeking mandated improvements to training, supervision, records and 911 responses.
Poynton’s wife and mother-in-law sued Met-Ed in 2016 for negligence and settled for an undisclosed amount earlier this year.