HARTFORD, CT — The General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee will hold hearings on the responsiveness — or what many say is lack of responsiveness — of Eversource to the late October storm that left hundreds of thousands without power in Connecticut.
“You can call it literally the perfect storm,” Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, chairman of the committee, said. “There was a bad storm, lots of rain, high winds that knocked down power lines — but there was also a lack of immediate response that we want to look at.”
Reed said one of her big concerns is about staffing, “Where was the workforce?”
She said the storm response left her wondering how much Eversource has outsourced to contractors and made her think that “they don’t have enough resources in state to handle these kind of storms anymore.”
Reed said she’d like to have the hearings — as soon as next week — if schedules come together.
Pushing the committee to hold such hearings are Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who wrote to the leaders of the Energy and Technology Committee asking that they convene an informational public forum.
The letter asked the committee to examine Eversource’s “seeming lack of proper storm preparedness and lack of a quick, effective storm response in advance of and following the damaging windstorm of October 29-30, which left more than 100,000 Connecticut residents in the dark for multiple days — particularly residents of eastern Connecticut.”
Lawmakers in the eastern part of the state were busy for days following the storm responding to constituents who were without electricity.
“Once again, too many customers were left in the dark without adequate communication from Eversource,” Duff said. “To make matters worse, residents of New Hampshire received automated telephone updates regarding power restoration efforts in Connecticut and vice versa.”
Duff added: “I believe that a review of Eversource’s storm response is particularly warranted in light of Eversource’s new request of state regulators to approve a three-year, $336.8 million rate increase for the company, which would raise the average Connecticut consumer’s electricity bill by 6.8 percent.”
A review by the Energy and Technology Committee is necessary to ensure that the “utilities and municipalities are following the 42 pages of recommendations of the Two Storm Panel, which I served on six years ago,” Osten said. “Reviews of natural disaster responses should occur on a regular basis here in Connecticut.”
The Two Storm Panel’s recommendations fall under the purview of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). Tropical Storm Irene hit the state in August 2011 and a devastating Nor’Easter blanketed the state in heavy snow a few months later. Both events knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents and left the state’s two largest electricity providers — Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating — struggling to assemble resources to repair the damage. The storms also highlighted communication problems between the utilities and municipal government.
The long power outages led Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly to approve legislation creating performance standards and fines for utility companies if they fail to meet power restoration goals following a major storm.
The first test of those new regulations was Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Regulators gave the utilities high marks for their response to that storm.
Reed said that while she appreciates the letter from Duff and Osten, “The plans for the hearings were already in the works.”
Reed said her phone in Branford “was ringing off the hook,” from residents and business owners who were stuck without power. She said she called “higher-ups” at Eversource during the recovery effort “and I kept being told the storm was worse than they expected.”
The Branford representative said her concern is, “In these days of major weather events if we are counting on out-of-state help to get to Connecticut, what happens if that out-of-state help is somewhere else, such as Texas or Florida?”
An Eversource spokesman defended the company’s response to the storm.
“We understand the senators’ concerns regarding the October 29th storm and we realize how difficult it is for our customers to be without power,” Mitchell Gross, Eversource spokesman said. “It’s important to note this storm caused significant damage to the electric system, affecting most of the 149 communities we serve. Our lineworkers, contractors, out-of-state mutual aid crews, and support staff worked around-the-clock restoring power.”
He added: “In many cases, the damage was extensive and crews had to rebuild parts of the system, which is a time-consuming process. We’re proud of their commitment to this restoration for our customers.”
Gross did concede: “We did experience some technical issues early in the restoration effort, but those were addressed and resolved as quickly as possible.”
Nonetheless, Osten said “a review by the Energy and Technology Committee is necessary to ensure that the state, utilities and municipalities are following the 42 pages of recommendations of the Two Storm Panel, which I served on six years ago. Reviews of natural disaster responses should occur on a regular basis here in Connecticut.”
On the request for a rate increase, Gross said: “The rate review we recently filed with PURA is a request to further strengthen the electric system and continue making improvements to the grid so it’s more resilient against future storms.”
He added: “We take our role as emergency responders extremely seriously. Every storm is different and we learn from each of them. That said, we continue to make improvements to our storm response and emergency preparedness to provide reliable energy for our customers during all weather conditions.”