New emergency chief disputes CL&P brought in help slowly
Published 11:02 am, Wednesday, November 30, 2011
NORWALK -- William Quinlan, Connecticut Light & Power's newly appointed vice president of emergency preparedness, Tuesday disputed claims the utility had trouble hiring out-of-state crews for the Oct. 29 nor'easter because of unpaid bills from Tropical Storm Irene.
"I don't think it had any effect," Quinlan told an audience in Norwalk.
But Quinlan said going forward the company is likely to hire more outside linemen ahead of a storm so they are on the ground when it hits, rather than en route.
A veteran employee of CL&P and its parent company, Northeast Utilities, Quinlan was elevated to his new position last week as part of a management shakeup that saw the resignation of beleaguered CL&P Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Butler.
The utility has been working this month to repair its image after leaving hundreds-of-thousands of residents in the dark for days. On Tuesday CL&P parent, Northeast Utilities, announced that a $10 million fund to help storm-damaged customers without power as of Nov. 5 had been increased to $30 million. And the utility is also donating at least $3 million to the Connecticut Food Bank, Foodshare and Operation Fuel.
There are several ongoing probes of CL&P's response to Irene and the nor'easter. A pro bono report to the governor by Washington-based Witt Associates is due Thursday. "We're really not going to sit around and wait for those assessments," Quinlan said.
He said CL&P is looking at options, including strengthening infrastructure, more tree trimming, placing some electric lines underground, improving communications with customers and municipalities, and getting out-of-state aid sooner.
Crews responded from 23 states and Canada, but CL&P executives have said they need to figure out how to get those bodies to Connecticut sooner.
One audience member asked Quinlan about media reports that contractors who assisted CL&P following Irene went unpaid as of the snowstorm.
"One thing I can assure you is that the major contractors were unaffected by any payment issues," Quinlan said. "All of the major players responded to both events."
He said there were instances where some smaller contractors' Irene payments were delayed. But Quinlan said CL&P has an obligation to its ratepayers to carefully review invoices before issuing payments, particularly following an event like Irene when the total bill is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Quinlan also said CL&P continues to believe its current roster of about 200 line crews is sufficient for day-to-day operations.
Quinlan said despite the need for improvements, he believes CL&P performed well during the nor'easter.
"By most industry standards ... in the aggregate the performance is actually pretty good," he said.