Craig Hallstrom, president of regional operations at Eversource

Before Tropical Storm Isaias hit Connecticut on August 4, Eversource underestimated the number of outages and crews necessary to restore power. More than 600,000 customers were without power for days in the middle of the summer and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If tomorrow’s event was another Isaias, it’s not coming back in four days,” Eversource President of Regional Electric Operations Craig Hallstrom said Thursday. 

But Hallstrom says the company is prepared. “Based on our forecast, based on what we see, we are appropriately prepared for this event.” 

Eversource has prepared for up to 380,000 outages, which could take between two and six days to restore. 

“We brought in crews earlier than normal. We were able to leverage those crews that we maybe normally wouldn’t have,” Hallstrom said Thursday. 

Gov. Ned Lamont said Tropical Storm Elsa should be far less severe in terms of both wind and flood damage.

Gov. Ned Lamont in the Emergency Operations Center (Christine Stuart photo)

Lamont has spoken with leadership of Connecticut’s utility companies, including Eversource and United Illuminating, and stressed to them the importance of having preparations in place and ready to deploy well in advance of the storm in the event of widespread power outages.

“The PURA rules went into effect on July 1,” Lamont said. “And those PURA rules are very clear. They’re clear in terms of fines that are put in place if power is not restored within 96 hours.” 

Eversource says it’s also prepared and ready to follow a new law that requires them to restore power within four days or have to reimburse customers up to $250 for any lost food and medicine. 

“What drives Eversource’s management decisions from my perspective is our penalty and dollars and repercussions to shareholders,” Rep. David Arconti, who co-chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, said.  

Lawmakers like Arconti want to see the company hire more permanent line crews so they don’t have to hire as many contractors during these extreme weather events. 

Sen. Norm Needleman, the other co-chair of the committee, says he thinks Eversource is making a point of being prepared. 

“This time they’re making a point of trying to be properly prepared. I wouldn’t say over-prepared,” Needleman said. 

PURA Chairwoman Marissa Gillett (Christine Stuart photo)

He said Eversource is driven by the penalties because it would impact their shareholders. He said the company needs to put the ratepayers first. Needleman said lawmakers wouldn’t have put the penalties in the bill if Eversource had voluntarily offered to help ratepayers like other utility companies did following Isaias. 

“If it’s worse than anyone estimates, it’s just going to have people upset and without power for longer,” Needleman said. “It’s threading a needle, but this time I’m hoping they threaded the right way.” 

When it comes to the new law that involves a penalty for outages longer than four days: “Customers are entitled to a small credit and food and medicine reimbursements for investments Eversource has not made,” Arconti said. 

The law says the utility will have to pay customers $25 per day for every day power is out beyond the four days, and up to $250 for lost food and medicine. 

State utility regulators proposed a $30 million civil penalty — the maximum allowed by law — against Eversource following Tropical Storm Isaias. Eversource is appealing the penalty in Superior Court.  

“We have seen this movie before. It’s a horror movie. It didn’t end well last time. It better be better this time,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. 

Eversource maintains that it’s prepared. 

“That’s always a hard decision, how much to prepare,” Hallstrom said. 

But weather events are hard to predict. 

Lamont suggested that residents have at least four days of food and water at their homes. 

“I think you’re going to find this storm hits off the Stonington area about 10 o’clock in the morning, I’d like to think it’s done by tomorrow afternoon,” Lamont said.