Utilities' Isaias response has Connecticut lawmakers considering penalties for lengthy restoration efforts
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- Sep 9, 2020 4:15 pm GMTSep 9, 2020 1:58 pm GMT
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In response to what they think were insufficient restoration efforts by Eversource and United Illuminating following Tropical Storm Isaias last month, Connecticut legislators have introduced a bill that would make electric utilities’ regulation performance-based and include their reliability and resiliency as performance indicators.
The bill contains some pretty harsh penalties for utilities that fall short of its standards for storm restoration efforts. In most cases, when utilities don’t restore power in 72 hours, they would have to reimburse customers up to $500 for spoiled medicine and up to $500 for spoiled food. Additionally, after 72 hours they would have to rebate customers $125 for each day the customers were without power unless the outage affected at least 870,000 customers.
The legislators are planning a special session later this month to consider the bill, which was the subject of a Sept. 8 listening session of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Energy & Technology Committee. The session was the third hearing that the committee has held recently concerning the response to Isaias as well as a rate increase that took effect on July 1.
In a written statement to the committee, Eversource officials called the bill “the most onerous piece of draft legislation we have seen proposed anywhere in the U.S.”
United Illuminating Senior Vice President Tony Marone said the penalties in the bill were “enormously punitive and unfair.”
Despite their objections to the penalties proposed in the bill, both utilities say they support performance-based regulation, giving them at least one thing in common with many Connecticut officials.
Katie Dykes, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Policy, said at the hearing that she supports performance-based regulation. Marissa Gillett, who chairs the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, said her agency supports the proposed bill.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont didn’t testify at the hearing but has said he supports performance-based regulation.
U.S. Sen Richard Blumenthal has gone beyond that. In written testimony submitted to the committee, he not only urged the committee to move quickly to make performance-based rates a reality, he also urged it “to consider breaking up Eversource to establish a Connecticut based utility either publicly owned or investor-owned subject to performance based rates.”
Eversource and United Illuminating have defended their response to Isaias, which walloped Connecticut, causing power outages for about 1 million electric customers, of which Eversource serves 875,000 and United Illuminating serves the rest.
Eversource has nearly 1.3 million customers throughout Connecticut while UI has about 340,000 around and in Bridgeport and New Haven.
Penni Conner, Eversource’s chief customer officer, told the Energy and Technology Committee last month that Isaias caused 30 percent more damage than Superstorm Sandy.
She also admitted that even though the company’s electronic customer-response infrastructure had been upgraded recently, it still was unable to deal with all the outage-related inquiries Eversource received, in part because customers have multiple ways to reach the company.
"We have customers who texted us 20-30 times a day," she said.
In response to Isaias, Eversource mobilized more than 2,550 restoration crews and nearly 800 tree crews to address damage at nearly 21,700 locations.
If the company had been required to meet the restoration standards in the proposed legislation, it would have had to have hired more than 5,000 crews while Isaias was still in the Caribbean, Craig Hallstrom, Eversource’s president of regional operations in Connecticut, told the committee on Sept. 8.
In written testimony submitted to the committee for its Sept. 8 hearing, Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe said about 97 percent of the Eversource customers in his town, which was hit by a tornado during Isaias, lost power from the storm.
“In the 48-hour aftermath of the storm and tornado, there was no information or specific restoration plans forthcoming from any Eversource representative or official, other than general information. We could only quote the Eversource website information, which was inaccurate and vague,” Marpe said.
Under Eversource’s regulations, the company should have provided Westport with a make-safe crew to start de-energizing downed lines within 24 hours of the storm ending, Marpe said. Instead, he said, Eversource first told Westport it would get two make-safe crews roughly 60 hours after the storm ended, then four hours after that time passed without the crews showing up, told it one crew was on its way. The crew arrived much later, he said. Eversource’s delays in getting a make-safe crew to Westport prevented the town’s Department of Public Works from addressing incidents related to downed wires until three days after Isaias, Marpe said.