ctnewsjunkie file photo
Craig Hallstrom, president of regional electrical operations for Eversource (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — With more than 600,000 Connecticut residents still without power, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority officially opened up an investigation Thursday into how Connecticut’s two utilities, Eversource and United Illuminating, prepared for Tropical Storm Isaias.

Gov. Ned Lamont requested the investigation and asked regulators to assess the preparedness, the utilities’ response, and whether they should be fined for their actions.

The investigation comes a day after PURA Chairwoman Marissa Gillett said that Eversource “grossly” underestimated the number of outages they would experience during the storm.

Gillett said that based on the documents Eversource shared with the state on Monday before the storm, the company planned for an outage of between 125,000 and 380,000 customers. That would require them to bring in 500 to 1,600 line crews and restore power within two to six days.

As of Wednesday, Eversource had 450 line crews and 235 tree crews in Connecticut.

Eversource declined to provide an updated number of crews Thursday, only saying that it had hundreds of crews working in Connecticut, including crews from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Canada.

“There has been a significant failure in communication here, leaving upward of 800,000 Eversource customers without even a clear way to report an outage from the outset of the storm event,” Gillett said. “There are disturbing reports emerging about the coordination, or lack thereof, between our electric utilities and the communities which they serve. This is simply unacceptable. There will be a full, transparent investigation to follow; however, I want to emphasize that the focus remains for the time being on addressing life safety issues, restoration of service to critical facilities, and restoration of service to all 1,000,000+ Connecticut residents and businesses who lost power before and after the storm.”

As of 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Eversource crews have restored power to more than 332,000 customers since the storm began, while approximately 533,000 Eversource customers in Connecticut remain without electricity. The company will provide an estimate of when it expects to have power restored to a majority of affected customers later today.

Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, who co-chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, said he finds it incredible that Eversource underestimated the number of outages.

“It’s a catastrophic failure that’s years in the making,” Needleman said Thursday.

Needleman has been critical of Eversource for years based on how they manage their business and how they’ve reduced their workforce.

He said they rely too much on subcontractors and mutual aid. He said United Illuminating has kept the number of linemen steady over the years and have been much more successful during these large outages.

“I understand how corporate structures work and theirs stinks,” Needleman said.

Needleman said he would be working on legislation for a September special session to hold the utilities more accountable.

Needleman who is also the first selectman of Essex said he has yet to see a crew.

Sen. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, said West Hartford as a community has the third-highest number of outages in the state and they had one crew from Eversource.

“We’ve been really good soldiers,” but Slap said the lack of response from the utility is “adding insult to injury.”

Rep. Tammy Exum, D-West Hartford, said the response was “a very late” one. She said she supports a robust investigation.

“I know this is very frustrating,” Exum said. “I know this feels like a redo, a warm version, of 2011. I sure hope this doesn’t last that long.”

Lamont said he was told Eversource would double the number of people it had in the state restoring power. 

“If you’ve only got one crew here now, I’d like to think it’s two crews by the end of the day,” Lamont said.

Lamont said he’s not sure Eversource was “pre-positioned and ready for what happened.”