With the lights back on lawmakers want to know what went wrong and if Connecticut could have done more to respond or prepare for Tropical Storm Irene.
Legislative leaders said they will hold an informational forum as early as next week with executives from the Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating, the two utility companies responsible for restoring power to hundreds of thousands of customers. They will also invite executives from the telephone and cable companies, along with municipal leaders to assess the response and find out if the state could have done more to prepare for the storm.
The informational forum, which will not include a public comment period, will be held by the legislature’s Energy & Technology, Public Safety, Labor and Public Employees, and Planning & Development committees. And it is in addition to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s investigation of all parties involved in the storm related response by a panel he’s expected to announce later this week.
“My constituents want to know why it took so long to get the power back on in certain areas. Probing questions need to be asked and I’m confident the legislative hearing is the appropriate venue to get answers,” Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Tuesday.
Many lawmakers were in the thick of things after power remained out for many residents across the state. Some were getting frantic calls in the early morning hours from constituents searching for insulin because their previously refrigerated supply had gone bad, while others were helping constituents find places for their elderly or children to stay until power returned.
“We are hearing from folks across the state that we can do better than this, and we’re looking to explore ways that we can be better prepared next time. That’s why it is appropriate at this time to convene legislative hearings,” House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said.
Most of the questions will likely be directed at Connecticut Light & Power that serves 149 towns and had more than 830,000 customers without power.
“In meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday, she confirmed to me that Connecticut had the highest percentage of homes without power of all states affected by Hurricane Irene,“ House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, said. “With such a heavy burden, to me the question remains whether our local utilities are working together to bring the necessary resources to bear throughout the state, not just within their own coverage areas.”
CL&P’s response to the storm also attracted the attention of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney, who co-authored a letter to Jeffrey Butler, president and CEO of CL&P asking for him to include storm readiness, coordination with local officials, and staffing levels in its review.
Mitch Gross, spokesman for CL&P, said the company welcomes the legislative hearing and will be participating in the governor’s review too. That’s in addition to its own assessment of its performance, which Butler has said is done after any large storm event or incident.
“If you got your power back within a couple days you probably were very happy with the restoration effort, but for those who had to wait close to a week or more we need to understand what happened and why,“ Rep. Vicki Nardello, D-Prospect, said. “Many people who had to wait the longest also depend on electricity to run their well water pumps and that can become a health issue very quickly. We are fortunate these record outages weren’t the result of a winter storm and the time is now to figure out what can be done better.”