CL&P stands by storm response
Published 1:05 am, Thursday, April 29, 2010
Connecticut Light & Power administrators defended their response to last month's powerful nor'easter before lower Fairfield County leaders Thursday and denied that line crews were prevented from working more than 16 hours to restore power.
"There was not an organized delay and the storm hit us harder than we expected," said Todd Blosser, the director of division operations for CL&P. "The labor units were not exactly truthful about the nature of our 16-hour-with-eight-hours-off policy."
CL&P has been stung by allegations from labor union representatives that they were told not to work beyond 16-hour shifts and the state Department of Public Utility Control has launched a probe into the power company's response. A series of five public hearings were held earlier this month as part of the inquest.
Blosser said that labor officials representing CL&P line workers falsely accused the company of limiting line workers to 16 hours on the job during the response to the hard- hitting storm the weekend of March 12-14 as a business move in order to prevent double time from kicking in.
At the height of outages, more than 161,000 CL&P customers were without power, the majority of them in Fairfield County, according to the company.
Blosser and Christopher Swan, director of municipal siting for the utility company fielded questions from the chief elected officials of the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization about the storm Thursday morning during the body's monthly meeting at the Norwalk Transit District.
Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said he remained concerned whether the company moved quickly enough to restore power and keep local officials up to speed on the response.
Blosser said that the company did follow a policy of requiring workers to be off-duty for eight hours between work shifts, and working longer than 16 hours is considered potentially dangerous.
Workers are paid time-and-a-half for shifts longer than 8 hours but less than 16, Blosser said.
"We feel it is not safe and not as productive to keep them working after a certain point," Blosser said. "At night they are not as productive as they are in daylight, despite what the labor unions say."
Joseloff asked whether the company has increased the number of power crews kept on standby during storms when winds reach 50 mph or higher.
"Basically there was a delay and we want to know why," Joseloff said. "What can we do to do better next time?"
Blosser told Joseloff that guideline changes that might come in response to the storm have not been finalized.
Richard Sank, business manager for Local 457 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers which represents CL&P's linemen disputed Blosser's claim that a 16-hour work schedule didn't prolong efforts to restore power during the storm.
"I'll prove it during the DPUC hearing because I've got it documented," Sank said. "They worked within the guidelines of the contract but it was a state of emergency with people out of power for days. If people had worked more than 16 hours, the lights would have come on a lot sooner."
At the meeting, New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker told Blosser and Swan that the company should improve its communication efforts in the wake of major outages, particularly if continued weather hazards or manpower issues are slowing the restoration of power.
"There should be a way to tell people, `We understand the damage is horrible and here is what we are doing to fix it,'" Walker said.
Blosser said at the public hearings that company officials recognized that there was dissatisfaction about reliable information during the storm.
"We heard the feedback on communication and it is one of our main takeaways," Blosser said.
Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei said that the investigation should delve into why Connecticut Light & Power didn't act to put more manpower and resources on standby given a weather forecast that called for high winds.
Tesei said he felt the company only geared up their response about 24 to 36 hours too late.
"They clearly missed the mark on reading the forecast because it was evident there would be high winds from Thursday on," Tesei said. "It should have caused the representatives of CL&P to mobilize their forces sooner."
Tesei said there were far too few utility crews to assist local police and fire personnel in responding to safety threats during the storm.
Power in Greenwich was not fully restored for seven days, according to the company.
"They should have been calling additional crews sooner taking into account the travel time," Tesei said. "If the workers had been notified Saturday to be on standby it would of helped."
Joseloff said he was unsure of how the priorities of avoiding higher labor costs when crews work around the clock, adequate rest for safety reasons, and restoring power as quickly as possible should be balanced.
"The new thing is that the company has acknowledged the union issues," Joseloff said. "Economic factors are certainly part and parcel of how CL&P responds and the reality is they don't have an unlimited purse to spend on power restoration. It appears the power crews are not going to get `golden time' around the clock like they used to."