The evidence is now clear and incontrovertible - Connecticut Light & Power did a poor job preparing for and responding to the two major storms that caused widespread power outages across the state in 2011. Because of this poor performance electricity was off longer than it had to be and communication to town officials and consumers fell far short of reasonable expectations.
The latest verdict comes from the state's Public Utility Regulatory Authority, which issued a draft decision on CL&P's performance, and that of other utilities, in response to Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 28 and the freak, early season snowstorm of Oct. 29.
"The Connecticut Light and Power Company's performance in the aftermath of the 2011 storms was deficient and inadequate in the areas of outage and service restoration, preparation of personnel, support of its municipal liaison program, development and communication of restoration times to customers, and overall communication to customers, other service providers and municipalities …" concludes the draft report.
A list of what the utility managed to do right probably would have been far shorter.
The report's conclusions echo many of the findings of the Two Storm Panel, created by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in the wake of the weather disasters. It, too, found the CL&P performance wholly lacking.
On the business side of things, the PURA report should mean that CL&P will have to swallow a larger share of the storm recovery costs, rather than simply pass along the bill to customers. Its parent company, Northeast Utilities, has stated the cleanup cost for the two storms was $260 million. CL&P, conceding its response was "deficient," had earlier stated it would not seek to recoup 15 percent of the recovery costs, about $40 million. But given the harsh conclusions of this latest review, it would seem more appropriate for the regulators to dock the utility the 30 percent to 50 percent of storm recovery costs, as suggested by Attorney General George Jepsen. Those financial decisions will not come until 2014, or later, when NU expects to next file for rate adjustments and storm recovery costs.
Tropical Storm Irene, with its near-hurricane force winds, resulted in power outages for 815,000 customers, with the bulk of the outages in eastern Connecticut. The October snowstorm, which hit the central and northwestern parts of the state hardest, caused 832,000 outages when heavy snow collecting on leaves snapped trees and large limbs, bringing down utility lines. In both storms, some customers were left without power for a week or more.
The important point now is to assure CL&P is better prepared for future weather catastrophes. In a time of climate change, incidents of atypical and often violent weather appear to be increasing.
Again mimicking the Two Storm Panel, the draft report, which is expected to be adopted by state regulators, will require CL&P "to develop a heightened state of readiness." This must include an assessment of the adequacy of line workers and workers from sister companies and affiliated contractors to respond to a major disaster. It requires development of mutual aid agreements with other utilities to assure additional help is available in a timely fashion. CL&P must demonstrate its ability to respond in adequate numbers during the critical first 48 hours after a major storm.
No one should expect electric service to return immediately after a natural disaster, but customers can reasonably expect power to be back on as soon as possible and to receive accurate updates as to how the process is proceeding.
CL&P is on notice. It has to do better next time.