Since the press conferences on the October Nor’easter started, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has stood patiently behind Connecticut Light & Power President and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Butler as the media asked him some tough questions. But Thursday evening was different.
Malloy spoke first for about 15 minutes about deploying the National Guard and the status of federal disaster relief. Then he took some questions and left the room as Butler took the podium.
“I understand his frustration,“ Butler said.
By the end of the press conference, Butler said he made a promise to Malloy to meet the benchmarks his company has set for restoration.
“I too am frustrated, as is everyone, at the pace that is being set,” Malloy said as he opened the press conference. He added that after touring a lot of the damage, he is skeptical that CL&P will be able to restore electricity to 99 percent of their customers by Sunday.
Sources say Malloy has had some heated discussions behind closed doors with the head of the state’s largest electric utility company, and he plans to hold him accountable for his daily restoration projects. Butler has promised to get the number of outages down to 300,000 by Friday morning and to restore electricity to 99 percent of its customers by Sunday at midnight.
But the intense scrutiny Butler faces isn’t just from Malloy, it’s also from the 831,000 customers who have lost power — for days in many cases.
“This morning I was asked if I was going to apologize to our customers,“ Butler said Thursday evening. “Since that question was posed to me, I thought a lot about it since that time. You know, the thing I’m sorry about is that so many of our customers here in Connecticut have been out of power for so long.“
On Thursday evening, 397,000 customers were still in the dark.
There’s been criticism about the utility’s inability to get line and tree crews to the state and its preparation before the storm, which dropped upwards of 20 inches in some of the northern portions of the state.
Butler maintained that the company arranged last Friday for 30 out-of-state crews to come into the state. Then, as they saw the storm intensify, they sought another 250 crews early Saturday.
“By early Sunday morning through mutual aid again we were seeking a total of 1,000 crews,” Butler said.
A press release from Dominion on Thursday morning said the company was contacted on Monday and they were able to get crews from Virginia to Connecticut by Wednesday.
Butler said the crews have been arriving, but not at the rate he would have liked. Two days ago, Malloy expressed his disappointment with the number of crews which decided to come to the state and CL&P has been reluctant to release a list of out-of-state contractors it hired for either Irene or the current storm.
CL&P said Thursday there were 1,495 line and tree crews working on restoration.
“We are making progress, but I realize for many of you — our customers — it’s not fast enough,” Butler said.
The utility has also faced criticism from local officials frustrated with the lack of information they’re receiving despite the implementation of the “town liaison” system.
“I will tell you in towns we have gotten tremendous kudos on how well the process has worked. In others there’s been issues,” Butler said of the liaison system created during Tropical Storm Irene.
But Butler concedes he understands why some local officials are frustrated based on where the restoration stands currently.
In addition to being held accountable by Malloy and customers, Attorney General George Jepsen also called for an investigation of CL&P’s handling of the storm.
Jepsen asked the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority on Thursday to conduct an investigation.
“I have received numerous complaints from affected citizens, many of whom are still waiting for their power to be restored,” Jepsen said. “Reliable electric service is a matter of public health and safety, and Connecticut’s citizens deserve to know that the utilities and the state are doing everything possible to provide electric service as soon as possible.”
Jepsen, who also had no electricity at home as of Thursday, said he’s asking regulators to investigate: CL&P’s preparations for the magnitude of the storm, its advance reservation and payment procedures for out-of-state work crews, and the effectiveness of its response to the damage on the ground.