Thursday morning the state’s two largest utilities will give their best guess as to when hundreds of thousands of residents will see the lights come back on.
As of Wednesday evening around 10:20 p.m., Connecticut Light & Power had 263,317 customers without power and United Illuminating had 108,898 customers without power.
Asked if he was concerned about giving an estimate, William Quinlan, senior vice president of emergency operations for CL&P, said “no.”
“I think we’re going to challenge ourselves to do a thorough analysis of the damage assessment data,“ Quinlan said. “We’re going to give you the best possible estimate of a restoration projection. Then we’re going to do everything within our power to deliver.”
While he denies being troubled about offering an estimate, Quinlan is acutely aware of what happened when former Chief Operation Officer Jeffrey Butler was unable to deliver on his estimate last year.
Butler, who attended countless media briefings, received the brunt of the criticism from citizens and editorial boards left in the dark for up to 12 days in some cases after the 2011 snow storm. Butler also drew the ire of town officials upset with the company’s response, which they said was so slow it was endangering the lives of their residents. He ended up resigning.
But before he departed someone had set up a FakeJeffButler Twitter account to lampoon him at various points throughout the restoration, and that Twitter account reappeared this week as the state braced for the storm.
Quinlan also is the target of a FakeBillQuinlan Twitter account, which has attempted to add some levity to the situation.
So what’s different?
What’s different this time is the utility is dedicating early efforts to clearing the roads and taking care of downed wires before restoring service to customers.
“We need to first eliminate the health and safety risk,” Quinlan said. “So while it’s somewhat of a shift, it’s been made very clear to us we need to put a high priority on those circumstances.”
Quinlan said he doesn’t believe it slowed the restoration efforts and it’s what the towns asked for during last year’s storm review process.
It’s taken a substantial portion of utility resources to get through that, “but we believe it’s the right thing to do,” Quinlan said.
Currently, the company has about 1,380 linemen. It also has 888 tree crews working to make it safe to restore power.
United Illuminating Vice President Anthony Marone said they’ve heard the municipalities loud and clear and they wanted the roads cleared first. Then each town also gave them a list of their top 10 priorities for restoration, such as a sewage treatment plant, school, or municipal building.
He said a big part of the first 48 hours has involved damage assessment.
“This is a very, very big piece of the work to understand the extent of the damage that’s out there and only from that are we able to make the global restoration time,” Marone said.
He said even when they give the global restoration estimate it is not going to answer the questions residents have about their specific street or house or business.
“We won’t have that level of detail tomorrow, but we will have the overall assessment,” Marone said. “And we will continue as time goes on to have more assessment to refine it down further.”
UI has 280 linemen and plans to have 80 additional linemen by Thursday. It has about 245 tree crews and will have an additional 120 tree crews by Thursday.