Performance standards for utilities and a statewide disaster drill are just two of the items Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is asking the General Assembly to put forward this year to improve the state and utilities response to major weather events.
“Preparedness is something we now know we simply did not pay enough attention to during the decade leading up to this past year’s weather conditions,” Malloy said at a press conference in Simsbury Wednesday.
Since his first week in office Malloy has been dealing with some significant weather events, including a Nor’Easter that dumped more than two feet of snow on the state almost a year ago today.
On Wednesday in Simsbury Malloy voiced his support for a proposal put forth by lawmakers in the wake of the freak October snow storm. The proposal is modeled after legislation passed in Massachusetts in 2009 and it requires utility companies to meet certain performance standards or face penalties if they don’t make the repairs in a timely manner.
“We need to have standards and we need to hold people accountable to those standards with the expectation they‘re actually going to meet those standards,” Malloy said.
Similar legislation proposed by House Democrats says if a utility company does not meet that standard set forth in the legislation then it will be fined up to 2.5 percent of its transmission and distribution revenues from the previous calendar year. The fines would likely amount to millions of dollars, which could not be passed back to ratepayers, Rep. Vickie Nardello, co-chairwoman of the Energy & Technology Committee, has said.
Malloy wasn’t sure exactly where the money collected from those penalties would go. He also wasn’t sure exactly how the state would pay for the estimated $650,000 statewide disaster drill to better prepare for large weather events, such as hurricanes.
“You might ask where is the money going to come from. Give me a little time, we’ll figure that one out,” Malloy said. “But we’re going to do it.”
Proposals to improve the electrical and telecommunications infrastructure will likely have to go through the Public Utility Regulatory Authority and the cost of those improvements will likely be passed onto ratepayers.
Malloy said toward the end of the public hearings on the response to the two storms, Connecticut Light & Power Company came forward and told the Two Storm Panel that for about $2.5 billion it can harden its infrastructure by 40 percent.
“I’m proposing that a docket be opened and that be considered,” Malloy said. “Since this is a process that has to be worked up over a number of years hopefully we could do that without adversely impacting rates on a competitive basis.”
Malloy said Connecticut wasn’t the only state that had to cope with the two storms.
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty said he will be asking the staff of PURA to open a docket to look at the hardening issues and tree trimming. It will be up to PURA, an independent agency inside the DEEP, to decide whether to open the dockets.
“We will evaluate what it takes to stay on top of the PURA orders,” Esty said. “And we’ll probably look for guidance at what other states have done.”
Esty said it should only take about three to four staff members from PURA to evaluate the performance standards for the utilities’ responses to emergencies after legislation is passed. That legislation will also seek to improve the mutual aid agreements the utilities have so when Connecticut utilities needs help from out-of-state contractors, they’re able to get it.
During the October snow storm, despite the mutual aid contracts Connecticut Light & Power had with out-of-state contractors, many were slow to arrive in Connecticut for a variety of reasons. Some of the contractors have said they weren’t paid for their assistance during Tropical Storm Irene, while others were required to stop in the first state that needed assistance. There were also complaints that when the contractors arrived they were poorly managed.
But that’s all in the past. Connecticut Light & Power said it’s looking forward to working with Malloy and PURA on these issues.
“We agree with Gov. Malloy that we all must work together to take a collaborative, statewide approach to emergency preparedness and recovery,” Mitch Gross, CL&P spokesman, said in a statement. “We also look forward to working with the governor and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to explore practical investments to make our energy delivery systems more weather resistant for sustained long term energy reliability.”
Malloy’s legislative agenda also recommends increasing the Department of Transportation’s tree trimming budget by $1 million. Malloy said the increase will be reflected in the budget adjustments he will present to the General Assembly in February.
Many of the other changes can be done administratively and don’t require increases in funding, he added.