HARTFORD, CT — Over the past few days, elected officials have been critical of Eversource’s response to Tropical Storm Isaias, but if past practice is any indication, they will be slow to penalize the utility.
Following Tropical Storm Irene and the late October snowstorm that both left hundreds of thousands of residents without power in 2011, the Public Utility Regulatory Authority, determined that because of the company’s failure to obtain adequate assistance in advance of the second storm, its response was deficient. At the time, Eversource was Connecticut Light & Power, whose parent company, Northeast Utilities, later merged with NSTAR.
In 2012, regulators issued a decision finding that Connecticut Light & Power should be penalized for its poor performance: “… the Authority concludes that CL&P’s performance in the areas regarding communication to customers, other service providers and municipalities was so deficient as to be less than adequate and suitable and to warrant regulatory sanction. This deficiency also involves its lack of preparation of personnel, failure to support municipal liaisons and to reasonably develop and communicate restoration times to customers.”
Regulators called for the financial penalties to be imposed in the company’s next proceeding. The company contested the finding, stretching out the process for another two years until the decision became final near the end of 2014. CL&P was penalized $4.4 million, but still allowed to increase rates.
Regulators wrote in their Dec. 17, 2014 final decision: “This Decision approves the proposed level of $257 million in capital spending, finding that this level of spending is necessary for safety, reliability and maintenance of the franchise.”
The company’s 1.2 million customers in 149 Connecticut cities and towns paid that $257 million to improve the reliability of the grid through their monthly bills.
Following that increase in late 2014, regulators approved another rate increase in 2018, but only allowed half of what the company wanted.
Eversource sought the increase to pay for smart switches, stronger poles and wires and improved tree-trimming to help restore power more quickly following storms.
Now, lawmakers are questioning how the utility spent the ratepayer increases that were supposed to harden the infrastructure and trim the trees to avoid the type of damage the state saw after last week’s storm.
Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, who has been critical of Eversource since he was elected, has called for the resignation of Eversource CEO James Judge.
“While Judge made $19.8 million last year, one of five Eversource executives who made a collective $40 million, his company was caught completely flat-footed, with hundreds of thousands still without power several days after the storm,” Needleman said Saturday.
In comparison, United Illuminating, the other Connecticut utility which serves 17 towns, will have substantial restoration completed by the weekend. Eversource is predicting substantial restoration by midnight Tuesday, Aug. 11.
“What is even more troublesome is that after a meeting with Governor Ned Lamont shortly after the storm, Mr. Judge refused to speak with reporters, sending out a spokesperson instead,” Needleman said. “Eversource has been widely criticized in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias, as it has been in the past for its response to similar storms. What has made this even more devastating is their severe underestimation of this storm. They were not prepared at all. This comes as Eversource has, in recent years, requested frequent price increases to support a mitigation process intended to prevent the exact poor response we still see today.”
Marissa Gillett, chairwoman of PURA, said that based on the documents Eversource shared with the state 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.
The number of power outages the company experienced exceeded 700,000.
By Sunday night, the utility said there were more than 2,300 line, tree and support crews on the ground as the energy company continues its urgent effort to restore electricity to the remaining 138,000 customers in Connecticut who were without it.