When it comes to how we managed a global pandemic, Connecticut deservedly gets high marks. The state government and the people of our state have performed admirably in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime challenge. So why did we struggle so hard to get the power back on after a storm?
One word: Eversource.
After two massive failures in 2011 in which Eversource – then called CL&P – took a shockingly long time to get power back on following an August hurricane and an October snowstorm, we heard plenty of promises about how this would never happen again. CL&P merged, renamed and rebranded itself, and also spent hundreds of millions of dollars in ratepayer funds to upgrade infrastructure.
And yet here we are again. The storm hit last Tuesday, but as I write on Sunday evening, there are still trees down, roads blocked, and over 100,000 without power.
The state is opening up an investigation into the utility in the wake of what seems to be an absolutely unforgivable lack of preparation. Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, the co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, is wondering where all that money went. He’s also calling for the CEO of Eversource to step down.
It’s not like Eversource didn’t have plenty of warning. Forecasters predicted strong winds capable of felling trees and downing power lines well in advance. So why didn’t they prepare? Why did they apparently learn nothing from the experiences of 2011?
The investigations likely will tell us the full story soon enough. I’m not expecting the leadership of Eversource to come out of this covered in glory. Once again, they’ve let down all of the selfless, hard-working power crews on the front lines of the recovery process. Perhaps we’ll see resignations. We’ll certainly see lots of promises made.
You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical of any promise Eversource makes right now.
I got lucky. We didn’t lose power for more than a few minutes, even though a tree fell on the power lines a street over (it was still there Sunday, by the way). But back in October 2011, we did lose power – for nine straight days. I know how awful and helpless it feels, and how frustrating it can be that the power company who we all pay so much money to year after year has failed to do its job again.
Yes, there should be severe repercussions. There should be investigations and hearings. But most of all, our utilities need to get better at this – fast. Because we’ve entered an era when strong storms are going to keep coming for us.
The climate is changing, and weather patterns are changing with it. Climate scientists are predicting that we’ll be seeing a lot more severe weather in the future.
I keep beating this drum because it’s so important to understand that an event like Tropical Storm Isaias isn’t just a once-every-ten-years sort of storm. We may start seeing hurricanes and other dangerous storms happening much more often, and they may be a lot worse when they do hit.
Connecticut needs to take steps to ensure that the power grid is more resilient, and that we have the capacity to respond to emergencies in a timely manner. I don’t know quite what that looks like. Do we need more tree trimming, as was promised after 2011? Do we need to think about burying the power lines in critical areas?
Maybe Eversource as it currently exists doesn’t work for us. Maybe having our vital utilities be big, private, for-profit companies was a really bad idea. Maybe we actually should make Matt Eagan the CEO. Can’t hurt, right?
Whatever the solution is, and I hope lawmakers make this a priority, we need to be ready for the next storm. Scientists are warning us that the next decade is going to be very difficult, weather-wise.
And if we’ve learned nothing else this year, it’s that when scientists warn us of danger, we ought to listen well.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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