ctnewsjunkie file photo
Tree down in Branford following the October storm (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — The second part of a public hearing on the utility companies’ response to the late October storm will be held in individual towns impacted, rather than in Hartford as originally scheduled.

The Energy and Technology Committee said that this week’s public hearing regarding the utility companies’ response to the storm that took place Oct. 29 and 30, has been reorganized into a series of in-district working meetings involving key utility representatives, municipal officials, first responders, and legislators.

The in-district meetings will effectively identify and address the unique problems and concerns impacting specific communities with a hands-on strategic approach, the co-chairs of the committee said.

The utilities will be required to notify legislators from each area they visit in advance of holding “fact finding and solution oriented meetings.” Further the utilities will report to the committee on the findings from the meetings.

“Everyone decided that this was the better way to go,” Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, co-chair of the committee said Tuesday. “Every single district has customized problems and it was decided it was best to get into the towns, have real working meetings and dig into the problems.”

Reed said that in her hometown of Branford, the first selectman wanted the meeting to be held locally “instead of him having to spend the entire day waiting in a line of people to testify for a few minutes in Hartford.”

Reed said the local meetings, of which she estimated there will be around a half-dozen or so, will all hopefully be held “before Christmas.” She noted that they also will take place just before scheduled rate hikes — averaging about $7.45 a month —  are to arrive on Jan. 1, 2018.

“The utilities have been very proactive about scheduling these. Everybody wants to sit down,” Reed said, adding that “the utilities did not deny that they had fallen down on the job” during the first hearing held on the storm response on Nov. 15 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

During that hearing, it was officials from Eversource Energy that were primarily on the defensive.

Officials from Eversource defended the company’s response to the late October storm that left hundreds of thousands without power, stating that it “turned into a more intensive storm than was forecast.”

Eversource officials spent more than an hour testifying and answering questions about how the company responded to the more than 311,000 customers impacted by the storm.

By comparison, a couple of United Illuminating officials spent about 15 minutes giving a presentation and answering a few questions from the committee about the 25,000 UI customers who lost power for a period sometime during the two-day storm.

“We look forward to working with our legislators and community leaders while participating in meetings to discuss any concerns or questions about our response to the October wind storm,” Eversource spokesman Frank Poirot said Tuesday.

“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,” Poirot added.

The storm hit hardest along the shoreline and inland in eastern Connecticut, which are areas primarily serviced by Eversource. The wind gusted from 55 to 70 mph from Sunday night, Oct. 29 into Monday, Oct. 30.

Eversource officials submitted documents that stated the storm broke 231 poles in its coverage area, knocked down close to 5,000 primary and secondary wires, and damaged 420 transformers. Further, Eversource said, more than 1,700 trees had to be cleared before all power was restored to impacted areas five days after the storm hit.

Reed and other members of the committee asked Eversource during the Nov. 15 hearing whether it had enough of a workers in the state — or on call in nearby states — to handle big storms.

“We are having weather events that we haven’t seen before and competing with other states for workforce,” Reed said.

Eversource Senior Vice President Peter J. Clarke said Eversource is planning to add additional in-the-field staffing in the near future. However, he added, “During an event like this we are never going to have enough, nor would our customers want to pay for it.”

Asked by committee members about using out-of-state crews for help, Eversource officials said they did, but many of the workers who came in did so from states as far away as Kentucky and Alabama.

That’s because, they said, the storm was a regional one with Connecticut’s neighboring states of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia all incurring power outages themselves.