Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said getting power back to the hundreds of thousands without it is still the state‘s top priority and with close to 350,000 customers still in the dark it‘s not time yet to evaluate the response, or count the number of line and tree crews, or figure out if the damage estimates will be passed onto ratepayers.
“I think there’s going to be plenty of time to look at response on a whole lot of different levels,” Malloy said Wednesday evening during a briefing at the state armory.
As for the staffing levels, “Let’s be honest. There is no way these utilities could supply 900 or 1,200 crews 52 weeks a year . . . and provide affordable electricity. And, by the way, I’m not sure electric is affordable under the current structure.”
Frank Cirillo, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 420, said Wednesday morning that the number of line crews and mechanics at Connecticut Light & Power has dwindled as its customer base has grown.
In 2007, Cirillo testified before the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee and told them that in 1976 — with around 850,000 customers — there were 430 linesmen. In 2005, with 1.2 million customers, CL&P was down to 190 linesmen.
Currently, CL&P has about 203 crews, 50 regular contractors, and has brought in another 770 crews from other states to help restore power. It is still working to bring in more out-of-state help.
Asked if the reduction in line crews over the years was to help the company save Monday, CL&P CEO Jeffrey Butler said, “We have a business to run. As the governor routinely says we have some of the highest energy costs in the nation.”
Butler didn’t dispute the fact that the number of line crews the company had was down from its peak in the 1970s.
He said the number of crews on the property this weekend was similar to what it was in 1985 during Hurricane Gloria. He said then there were 267 crews, while today there’s 252 crews, a number that includes about 50 contractors.
“I can speak for the behalf of the entire industry, there’s probably fewer line workers within the utilities today than there were in 1985,” Butler said Wednesday.
Malloy tried to remain optimistic about the situation.
“How much is too little is a very legitimate question and how much is too much is a very legitimate question,” Malloy said. “What is spectacular is that there are more people working on energy issues in this state than at anytime in our history—on an event that was almost twice as severe as Gloria.”
William Bryan, deputy assistant secretary of infrastructure security and energy restoration for the U.S. Department of Energy, said with a storm of this magnitude they usually see 60 to 70 percent of people able to receive power restored within three to six days. He said that’s the national average.
“I would argue you guys are at par or above par in that case,” Bryan said. “And you gotta recognize that they’re going to hit the largest group of folks first and work themselves down the line.”
Malloy who toured parts of eastern Connecticut today said he understands frustration is building. He said he’s hearing stories from people saying they haven’t seen a crew, then the guy across the street says there was a crew out there today, then the town official says something completely different about the progress of the restoration.
There’s just a lot of frustration and in that frustration people grab pieces of information and sometimes that information simply isn’t true, Malloy said.
About 300,000 CL&P customers were still in the dark Wednesday evening, which is down from the peak of 672,000 after Tropical Storm Irene hit on Sunday. United Illuminating, which covers parts of Fairfield and New Haven counties, has about 48,000 customers still in the dark.
Butler estimated full restoration could take less than a week if additional crews continue to arrive. He estimated all customers would have their power back in a week with the 940 crews at work Wednesday. A total of 1,200 crews, 800 line and 400 tree crews, are expected by the end of the week.
Butler said by the end of the night they expect to have restoration projections up for 149 towns. As of 6 p.m. Wednesday there were projections for about 46 towns on its website. Butler said he understands the frustration customers are feeling.