State complicit in storm response failures
Published 8:20 am, Wednesday, December 7, 2011
If Connecticut Light & Power was grossly unprepared for the scope of outages caused by October's nor'easter, state utility regulators bear some blame for not challenging the company's emergency plan.
An independent review of the utility's response to the freak storm, released Friday by Washington-based Witt Associates, criticized its emergency plan for defining a worst-case scenario as 100,000 households without power. Just over 809,000 customers were in the dark following the Oct. 29 snowfall.
Witt conducted the review for free; its findings led to renewed criticism of the already-beleaguered company.
"It should come as no surprise to anyone that CL&P was completely unprepared for a storm of this magnitude," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told reporters after the Witt report's release. "But the extent to which they were unprepared is troubling."
But CL&P's emergency plan is not proprietary information locked away within its Berlin headquarters. The plan is a public document that by state statute must be filed every five years with the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, until a few months ago the Department of Public Utility Control.
The most recent iteration was submitted in June. Based on available documents, regulators did not challenge the section that breaks down emergency response into five levels, beginning at "small impact" and capped off with "extreme event" outages affecting 100,000 customers every five years.
State law also requires PURA to schedule public hearings on emergency plans and subsequently make revisions.
But according to CL&P, PURA canceled a Sept. 6 hearing because of a lack of public interest.
CL&P's emergency plan received a different independent review in 2010 following criticism the utility had performed poorly in the wake of a March rain and wind storm that affected more than 100,000 customers, many in southwestern Connecticut.
While New York-based Jacobs Consultancy at the time issued several recommendations, the firm concluded the emergency plan was "adequate" and did not suggest CL&P rethink its worst-case scenario.
Nardello said she wants to know specifically who within PURA was responsible for reviewing and signing off on CL&P's emergency plan. A PURA spokesman could not immediately explain the process.
"The CL&P plan was filed with the DPUC in compliance with a recommendation from a review conducted following the event of (March) 2010," spokesman Dennis Schain wrote in an email. "While it represented a step forward, the experience we have now had ... clearly shows that the plan did not make provisions for scenarios that were severe enough."
"Were regulators not aggressive enough in pursuing an appropriate disaster plan? You can probably say that," he said.
But McGee added that does not let CL&P, and its well-compensated executives, off the hook.
"They clearly misjudged the severity of the storm," he said.