Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Sen. Norm Needleman of Essex (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — A freshman lawmaker is wasting no time challenging Connecticut’s largest utility company.

State Sen. Norm Needleman, who co-chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, proposed has legislation that would require companies like Eversource to restore electric service on an improved schedule after power outages and establish a minimum staffing level for line crews.

“In the last several years, response times to perform repair work after storms and outages by utility companies like Eversource have grown precipitously, causing significant delays in restoring power to Connecticut residents and businesses relying on it,” Needleman said. “It’s no coincidence, I believe, this comes as Eversource continues to reduce its repair staff and equipment, instead increasingly relying on private contractors from outside of their system. Without adequate staff, in the event of severe weather, Eversource will waste time and inconvenience customers.”

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 469: An Act Concerning Utility Response Times For Restoration Of Electric Service And Utility Minimum Staffing Levels

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The legislation was introduced the same week that Eversource asked the state for permission to charge ratepayers an additional $150 million to cover the cost of repairing the damage caused by five major storms over the past two years.

If that rate increase passes, the average customer could see their bill jump $1.85 per month, or more than $20 annually, for the next six years.

“Why should Eversource receive a rate increase for this work when it drags its heels doing it in the first place? Connecticut taxpayers and businesses were already inconvenienced when their power remained off for days during these storms, and they shouldn’t be punished twice,” Needleman said. “If Eversource had invested in effective weather responses in the past, instead of reducing staff and equipment to save money, they wouldn’t need to ask for $150 million in repairs.”

Needleman is also the CEO of Tower Laboratories, a privately held company specializing in the development and manufacture of effervescent products. Headquartered in Centerbrook, the company also has manufacturing facilities in Clinton and Montague, Michigan.

He knows firsthand the problems with power outages.

“My manufacturing plant in Michigan has lost power one time in 14 years, while my manufacturing plant in Centerbrook sometimes loses power for no reason at all. Connecticut needs to attract businesses, and unstable electrical systems will only drive them away,” Needleman said.

Tricia Taskey Modifica, a spokeswoman for Eversource, said the storm responses have been “thoroughly scrutinized” by PURA during and following every major power restoration.

“We have made significant improvements in our storm response over the last several years — as recognized by regulators and industry organizations — and are always looking for additional opportunities to improve,” Modifica said.

Needleman’s bill also asks for the utility to “establish minimum staffing levels” — the same goal that linemen sought to accomplish unsuccessfully following two major storms in 2011.

“Our staffing levels are appropriate for day-to-day operations, and when needed during storms, we secure additional resources in advance through a mutual aid agreement with other utilities,” Modifica said. “We look forward to meeting with Senator Needleman to address any concerns he has.”

Eversource serves about 1.2 million electric customers in 149 Connecticut cities and towns.

No public hearing on the bill has been scheduled yet, but since Needleman co-chairs the committee it’s likely it will be raised for a public hearing.