HARTFORD — The Senate on Thursday put the finishing touches on a bill to create more oversight for the state’s utilities, following the controversial, prolonged power outages after August’s tropical storm .

During a special session following a House vote Wednesday night, senators voted 35-0 to send to Gov. Ned Lamont a bill that would give electric customers up to $250 in reimbursements for lost food and medicines for power outages that last 96 hours or more.

It would create a variety of new standards for utilities, including the staffing of linemen and tree-trimming crews, as well as enhanced communication with local officials during outages. During the August tropical storm, town and city officials throughout the state complained of a communications breakdown with utilities including Eversource and United Illuminating.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to put the ratepayers ahead of the shareholders,” said Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, co-chairman of the legislative Energy & Technology Committee. “This is an important first step. There will be more.” He described executives at Eversource, like United Illuminating a regulated monopoly, as “a little bit tone-deaf” during negotiations over the last two months.

Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, ranking member of the energy committee, said that between a new price hike in July and the seriousness of the storm, lawmakers agreed that a new path forward was needed, including greater transparency in electric bills. “What is the plan for the next 10 years?” Formica asked.

“I believe this bill starts that conversation,” Formica said, stressing that the legislation would offer a cooperative way forward for ratepayers, regulators and customers alike. “It’s time for the utilities to take it to the next level and treat ratepayers with the respect they deserve.”

Formica and Needlemen agreed that since the historic storms of 2011 that prompted a massive state investigation, it seems that electric utilities became much-worse in communicating with local officials during the power-restoration process. “This is one of the places where I believe that Connecticut can lead the way,” Needleman said. “We want them to be judged on an array of things that will improve customer outcomes throughout the state.”

“This is not a regular free-market business,” said Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, recalling the August storm. “This is a utility. The electric bills have risen and the delays for restoration went on for a long, long time in northwestern Connecticut.”

“We’re not here by choice,” said Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford. “We’re here because our constituents demanded us to act.”

Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said the Take Back Our Grid Act was needed, because the massive restructuring act of 1998, which put UI and the Eversource precursor Connecticut Light & Power out of the generation business, never succeeded in lowering rates or increasing competition.

Lesser said Eversource drastically cut the number of line workers, opting to bring in out-of-state contractors during emergencies, but they are unfamiliar with Connecticut’s grid.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, a former chairman of the energy committee, said that part of the problem with regulating Eversource is that it operates in three states, while UI’s service areas is confined to areas around New Haven and Bridgeport.

“It is a difficult beast to slay from one state’s perspective,” Duff said of Eversource. Duff complained that during the August storm aftermath, he and other state lawmakers became the liaisons with utilities because the usual lines of corporate communications failed totally, leaving mayors and first selectmen literally in the dark.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, in one of his final speeches on the Senate floor before retiring, first offered, then withdrew an amendment that would separate the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

He recalled that the same problems of nine years ago re-emerged in August. Fasano warned that while the state wants to foster renewable energy sources, lawmakers think they can also keep rates low while trying to meet goals of reducing carbon emissions. He said that PURA was set up to keep lawmakers from having to go on the record in voting for customer rate hikes.

“Let’s not say renewables are needed, but we don’t want to talk about the realm of consequences,” Fasano said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, summing up the bill, said the storm gave lawmakers a sense of urgency. “This will align financial incentives with performance metrics of the ratepayers,” Looney said. “Our utilities are not financially incentivized for their ratepayers.”

In a related development, Attorney General William Tong on Thursday called on UI and Eversource to “do the right thing” and offer compensation to families who suffered losses when their refrigerators lost power during the prolonged August outage.

“While this law does not retroactively apply to the Isaias outages, there is absolutely nothing stopping these companies from providing immediate compensation to Connecticut families who lost hundreds of dollars in food and medicine,” Tong said.

Tricia Taskey Modifica, spokesperson for Eversource said the company appreciated the interest of lawmakers.

“The legislation passed tonight includes performance-based regulation which we believe will benefit our customers,” she said. “This new approach will hold us accountable if we fall short in meeting certain standards, and will acknowledge when we exceed the standards, which we believe will result in better service for our customers. The legislation also includes an important provision that affirms PURA’s ability to adopt storm performance standards based on industry best practices.”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT