Darien, others rebuke Connecticut Light & Power

The late-October storm Sandy exacerbated Connecticut Light & Power’s inefficiencies, according to a letter to Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) from various town head’s including First Selectman Jayme Stevenson.

“In our opinion, the CL&P performance continued to be well below our needs and expectations,” said the letter addressed to Arthur House, chairman of PURA. The letter was submitted by Gordon F. Joseloff, chairman of the South West Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization and First Selectman of Westport on behalf of Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Weston, Wilton, Norwalk and Stamford.

The regulatory authority opened an investigation into CL&P and United Illuminating on Monday, Nov. 26 in accordance with Connecticut Public Act 12-148, which requires PURA to review electric companies practices after an emergency when more than ten percent of their respective customers were without power for more than 48 hours.

The review will look at adherence to a pre-established emergency plan for timely power restoration, tree-trimming policies, and efforts for communication with state and local officials, and customers.

Three public hearings took place at Waterford ,Westport and East Haven in early January.

The towns acknowledged that power restoration requires some time and “high levels of communication and cooperation” between the local departments and CL&P, the letter said, but local responders were able to “perform as expected, even above expectations.”

The towns have not seen any evidence that CL&P has made significant improvements “over the last few years,” despite previous hearings and meetings, the letter said.

The utility company essentially has no competition in the market and therefore, customers have to deal with the company’s actions, and rely on the regulatory authority to act on their behalf, the letter said.

It is also noted that there has been talk from CL&P employees that the company does not encourage creative customer service actions.

“We believe that CL&P’s problems are deeply rooted in its inability and lack of focus as a company to make massive storm related power outages a major organizational initiative,” the officials wrote.

The letter also contains a list of observations and recommendations, all of which are submitted as a docket for the Sandy investigation.

The towns noted the poor communication from the company’s representatives, and the inconsistency of information between representatives at various levels. The lack of information about when crews would be sent out, when they could work, the number of assigned crews and their specific jobs was also an issue.

There were not enough crews in some towns, and the initial stages of clearing trees and lines was delayed. Some line crews did not have adequate equipment, the letter said, because the company expected it to be available in the towns.

The letter also stated that the term “crews” itself is unclear because it does not imply the number of people working.

After Sandy, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson answered questions from residents about recovery efforts at an event at Darien library. Some asked questions about how restoration was prioritized. Stevenson repetitively stated that setting priorities rested with CL&P but noted that certain town properties, such as Town Hall, were at the top of the list.

The officials suggested that CL&P communicate with a two-tier priority plan through field supervisors after the emergency.

The utility’s “800” number caused some of the confusion, according to the letter. The number “told First Selectmen or Mayors to set restoration priorities.” Only schools and nursing homes were identified as priorities by the 800 number, but not any residential areas.

They also criticized CL&P’s power outages maps, which display what percent of each town’s customers do not have power.

“Outages by municipality should only show the number of customers out, as this is the most meaningful number. Showing percentages “out” makes it a competition between towns that citizens watch and when one town lags another, they criticize town officials for not beating up CL&P harder,” the letter said.

The Metropolitan Planning Agency, on behalf of the towns, submitted the letter because they rely on PURA to impose sanctions based on CL&P’s effort to improve communication and response to the area, the letter said.

A review of the utilities response to Hurricane Irene and an October snowstorm in 2011, by PURA, revealed inadequate response by the company.

The regulatory authority stated that future electric rates would be scrutinized, and possibly subject to reduction at their discretion. The same decision applied to the company’s potential storm reimbursement.

Evidence submitted to PURA, and decisions, can be viewed at Ct.gov/pura. The towns’ letter is docket no. 12-11-07.

Formal, closed hearings with the utility companies will proceed in early May, according to Gross of CL&P.

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