Connecticut Light & Power President and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Butler backtracked at a Wednesday evening press conference on comments he had made that morning suggesting that the utility did not have adequate warning of Saturday’s Nor’Easter that left 955,000 customers without power. Currently 500,000 remain in the dark.
At the morning press briefing in the state Emergency Operation Center, Butler told reporters the company did what it could to prepare for the storm, but said the amount of snow was “far more significant than had been forecast.”
The comment drew immediate criticisms from state meteorologists who predicted the storm would drop massive amounts of snow on trees that had not yet shed their leaves. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also warned residents after Friday’s Bond Commission Meeting that the storm would likely cause major power outages.
Butler backed off the statement immediately after stepping to the podium Wednesday evening.
“Before I get started I’d like to correct something I said this morning about weather forecasts,” he said. “Both Northeast Utility, our parent company, and CL&P were both aware of the severe weather forecasted for Saturday Oct. 29 based on Friday’s weather forecast.”
The company did place all of its available field employees on call beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, he said. CL&P notified its in-state contractors and received commitments from 30 out-of-state crews on Friday, he said.
“This morning I said it was Saturday when we knew about the extent of the storm. I misspoke. To be very honest, the days have begun to run together. We had actually been tracking this for a number of days,” he said.
Butler said he was only trying to say the storm hit earlier and was more intense than what they expected.
When asked about legislation suggested by House Democrats requiring utility companies to restore power within a certain a benchmarked time period or face fines, Butler said that his focus for the time being was restoring power.
The legislation, which would be modeled after modeled after legislation passed in Massachusetts in 2009, would also require the company to maintain a certain number of linemen. Butler said that the around 200 line workers CL&P employs is more than adequate for day-to-day operations.
“Day in and day out it meets the needs,” he said.
Malloy wasn’t so sure.
“I believe that it has to be benchmarked and quite clearly the Irene Commission, which is now the two-storm commission, needs to benchmark what is an appropriate staffing level for the number of customers or the amount of energy sold or whatever,” he said.
The governor said that the determination of whether the company benchmarked its staffing levels properly wouldn’t be reached that day but should be addressed in the future.
“I fear that that was not done and it needs to be done,” he said.
While he reserved immediate judgment on the proposal and his confidence level in CL&P, Malloy assured reporters he intended to “hold the feet of the utility to the fire.” His confidence level will depend on whether the company succeeds in meeting its self imposed deadlines for Thursday morning and Sunday evening at midnight, when it promises to have 99 percent of customers restored.
Butler said the company expects to have restored power to between 125,000 and 150,000 customers between Wednesday and Thursday morning. That would put the number of customers still without power somewhere around 425,000. At its peak the storm knocked out the power of 955,000. Currently, 511,591 remain without power, according to a CL&P estimate.
Malloy stressed that it is important residents do not run anything on an engine inside their homes for heat. Since the storm, there have been 187 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning as a result, he said.