Attorney general rips utilities over storm response
HARTFORD -- Attorney General George Jepsen on Monday issued a scathing assessment of Connecticut Light & Power's preparation and response to last year's two major storms that left more than 800,000 customers in the dark.
During a news conference to announce the filing of a 54-page brief to state regulators, Jepsen said he is asking that CL&P's attempt to recover storm-related costs be mostly rejected by state regulators because of the company's "imprudent" conduct resulting in power outages of up to 10 days.
"CL&P failed to prepare for major weather events, failed in its assessments and failed to adequately communicate with the public and public officials," Jepsen said. "The company's `worst-case scenario' emergency response plan only prepared for 100,000 outages; they had no plan whatsoever for outages on the scale that we saw not once in 2011, but twice."
Jepsen has asked the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to disallow up to 50 percent of CL&P's restoration and recovery costs.
"CL&P failed to train and support municipal liaisons and failed to defer to local restoration priorities," Jepsen said. "Most significantly, CL&P developed unreasonable estimated restoration times, clinging to an assertion of 99 percent restoration by midnight, Sunday, Nov. 6, long after it was apparent this was not achievable."
The utility replied that it met industry standards in preparation and reaction to Tropical Storm Irene in August and the freak Halloween weekend snowstorm. Irene caused 800,000 outages in the CL&P service area, while the Halloween storm, in which heavy snow piled up on power lines and trees, left 880,000 in the dark.
Albert Lara, spokesman for CL&P, said Monday that consultant reports on the storm response underscored the company's response as safe and consistent with the industry standards, although there are areas for improvement.
"Attorney General Jepsen's filing today is part of an ongoing review before PURA in which a final decision is not due until Aug. 1," Lara said in a phone interview. "It wouldn't be appropriate for us to respond to the attorney general's filing outside of the PURA review. As you are aware, these were major storms. However, a number of independent consultants who have reviewed our preparation and response have concluded that CL&P accomplished these restorations safely and in line with industry norms."
Joseph McGee, vice president for public policy at the Business Council of Fairfield County, who served as co-chairman of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Two Storm Panel, said the attorney general's findings mirror those of the panel.
"The real critical issue is standards," McGee said. "During storms there are not standards for the performance of utilities on power restoration. It's a national issue, and I felt the industry itself needed to come up with standards, and if they didn't you'd have standards imposed by the individual states."
During the legislative session that ended May 9, the House and Senate approved a bill that would create standards for utility staffing and requirements for tree trimming and service restoration. Failure to meet those standards could prompt penalties. The measure awaits final action from the governor.