Stan’s Testimony at Texas House State Affairs Committee

April 1, 2019
My name is Stan Brannon, and I’m advocating for HB 4150.

I am speaking to this committee as to why this bill is necessary.

The death of three Boy Scouts in a boating accident on Lake O’ The Pines on August 5, 2017, was an event that forever changed the lives of the families of the three boys. One of the three boys, my son Will Brannon, was seventeen, an Eagle Scout and about to enter his senior year in high school. The families of the other two scouts, Heath Faucheux (sixteen, also an Eagle Scout) and Thomas Larry (eleven, a new Scout), will be testifying on their behalf today also.

This accident spurred the grieving families to look closer into the issues leading up to this accident. The question we continued to ask was, “how was this allowed to happen”? After much investigation by all three families, it was found that the power line involved was low (13 feet below minimum height requirement). The line was originally constructed in 1963. In 2005, a small plane crashed into this line, severing the it. It was rebuilt, but not to the height requirement specified in the National Electric Safety Code (NESC) or the US Army Core of Engineers (USACOE) easement agreement. No line height inspection occurred. This USACOE easement was renewed in 2015, with the same height requirements. No evidence has been presented indicating that inspection of line height was done. The reason this low line condition was allowed to exist was that there were no inspections for line height compliance done over the lifetime of this power line. No line height inspections were done because they were not required to be done. They were not required to be done because the governing law for utility company operations did not mandate them. The root cause of their deaths was not the low power line (which was the immediate cause), but a lack of mandated requirements for line safety inspections. In short, the lack of oversight by the governing agency of power utility companies.

This lack of oversight led to a situation where some utilities are not performing line height or other safety inspections of existing power lines. There are no mandatory inspections for line height required. Moreover, there are no repercussions for failure to perform any inspections. There are also no requirements for reporting of fatalities due to power line accidents. The State of Texas assumes that utilities are self-policing for line height compliance and other public safety issues involving power lines.

The governing law in this state is the Texas Utility Code. It names the Public Utility Commission, or PUC, as the state agency responsible for oversight of utility companies. The code has no reporting requirements for public safety. It only requires reporting for rates and/or outages. The code defaults to the National Electric Safety Code, or NESC, for requirements concerning public utility safety.

The NESC does call for safety inspections to be done, however it does not specify as to type of safety inspections, frequency or reporting. The NESC implies self-policing of this public safety aspect.

Our tragedy was not an isolated incident. It was not even isolated as to the power line involved in the deaths of our three young men. This same line was involved with another death on the same lake for the same reason in 1982. However, since the PUC does not require reporting of fatalities due to power line accidents, data on this statistic is not readily available.

HB 4150 will, by requiring annual reporting to the PUC of power line inspections, especially line height, will make it mandatory for utility companies to perform these inspections. It also requires reporting of training to NESC and applicable easement requirements, and fatalities due to power line accidents. This bill will increase public visibility of the results of these inspections. In short, it will hold utility company’s ‘feet to the fire’ with regards to public safety.

Thank you for your time. I am available for questions at your convenience.