Darien supports efforts to hold Eversource accountable for Isaias response
DARIEN — First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said the town and the Western Connecticut Council of Governments supports a PURA filing regarding Eversouce’s response to Tropical Storm Isaias.
In August, Ridgefield announced it would be filing a complaint about the storm response with New Fairfield and Newtown.
“On behalf of our resident and business customers of Eversource, I’ve added our support for a motion filed with PURA by Ridgefield, Newtown and New Fairfield ‘seeking immediate emergency relief against Eversource to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare’ in response to breakdowns of emergency response by the utility before and during Storm Isaias,” Stevenson said.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority is charged with regulating the rates and services of Connecticut's investor-owned electricity, natural gas, water and telecommunication companies and is the franchising authority for the state’s cable television companies. In the industries that are still wholly regulated, PURA balances the public’s right to safe, adequate and reliable utility service at reasonable rates with the provider’s right to a reasonable return on its investment.
Following the storm, Stevenson said her Eversource liaison told her the impact in terms of power outages statewide was worse than Hurricane Sandy. It took nearly a week to get power fully restored in Darien.
Energy regulation is part of the agenda of a special session in Hartford this week, known as the “Take Back Our Grid” act.
“The Take Back Our Grid Act promises to begin the overhaul Connecticut utilities and ensure the people of our state receive the services they pay for, ensuring that corporations focus on the people they serve instead of the profits they earn,” the Senate Democratic leadership said in a statement.
Prompted by the widespread outages caused by the tropical storm, the energy legislation would freeze electric rates while directing PURA to craft new “performance-based regulations” and rates by September 2022.
Gov. Ned Lamont said the bill also would address excessive executive compensation
Upon announcing the filing in August, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi complained that Eversource affected the town’s communication with the people who were supposed to act as liaisons.
The liaisons “were specifically told not to discuss” arrangements or plans for line crews with first selectmen and mayors “because the chief elected officials only get in the way,” Marconi recalled of his conversation with the liaison.
“Very arrogant on their part,” he said.
Marconi didn’t fault the liaisons. They were being instructed not to share information with the towns — putting them in an awkward position.
“You could hear it in their voices,” Marconi said. “They were as frustrated as we were.”
“They were specifically told not to communicate with us,” Marconi said.
In the aftermath of Isaias, Stevenson expressed the same frustration with the Eversource response, saying this storm was “different” than others.
“Normally, Eversource sends in ‘make safe crews’ to clean up trees and deenergize wires so that towns can proceed with cleanup. They’re not doing it this time for us here in Darien. There are so many roads still blocked with wires and trees down,” Stevenson said at the time.
She said during a call at the time with Lamont, many other town leaders echoed the same concerns.
In Stevenson’s comments Monday, she addressed the requests that were being made of Eversource for future storms on behalf of the COG. These include making sure the above “make safe” crews were put in place, implementing a community liaison program to provide timely and accurate updates, and implementing an outage reporting system, so customers can report by phone, web or text and be provided accurate restoration information.
Stevenson said Monday night that every state municipality was discouraged by the utility response to the storm recovery.
She also added that she continues to talk with Altice, Verizon and Optimum representatives to identify areas of town with poor service. Stevenson said her street was one of the identified problem areas and she was told that ospreys are nesting on the tower at the transfer station, which she said is part of the problem. Repairs can’t be made until the ospreys have vacated the area as they are a protected species, she said.
“Along with the breakdown of our electric utility restoration, all the other utilities follow that,” Stevenson said. “So cable and phone doesn’t get restored until electric gets restored. Everyone needs to be working together.”