PURA to investigate Eversource and UI’s preparation for and response to Isaias

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CONNECTICUT (WTNH) — 24 hours after Tropical Storm Isaias brought destructive winds through Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont called on Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to investigate the state’s public utility companies for their response efforts to the storm.

PHOTOS: Damage from Tropical Storm Isaias across the state

Isaias brought more than 700,000 power outages across the state. 

On Thursday, PURA said that it will act on the governor’s request and initiate an investigation into how Connecticut’s electric utilities, Eversource and United Illuminating (UI), prepared for and responded to the storm.

“There has been a significant failure in communication here, leaving upward of 800,000 Eversource customers without even a clear way to report an outage from the outset of the storm event. There are disturbing reports emerging about the coordination, or lack thereof, between our electric utilities and the communities which they serve. This is simply unacceptable. There will be a full, transparent investigation to follow; however, I want to emphasize that the focus remains for the time being on addressing life safety issues, restoration of service to critical facilities, and restoration of service to all 1,000,000+ Connecticut residents and businesses who lost power before and after the storm,” said PURA chairman Marissa P. Gillett.

On Thursday, Attorney General William Tong also formally requested to intervene in the open investigation, urging PURA to put the company on notice of potential fines and penalties.

“We pay far too much for our energy in Connecticut to be left in the dark. Consumers have poured millions of our ratepayer dollars into resiliency investments to harden our system and prepare for this precise type of storm. Eversource and United Illuminating appear to have been unacceptably unprepared for Isaias and must be held accountable. The Office of the Attorney General will be fully engaged in this investigation on behalf of ratepayers who are entitled to answers and any appropriate relief. PURA is right to open this investigation, and must be prepared to issue real fines and penalties to hold the utilities accountable for their failure,” said Attorney General Tong. “Consumers have a right to be angry here—as am I. At the same time, I am deeply grateful to the line crews and first responders who have worked tirelessly to restore power across our state. Their efforts should be commended and they deserve our full support.”

Lamont said on Wednesday that Eversource Energy’s and United Illuminating’s responses to the storm have been wholly inadequate and does not meet the obligations for the critical resources they are responsible for providing on behalf of Connecticut residents.

“Several years ago, Connecticut experienced largescale outages that took days to recover from, and we were told that the utilities were improving their resources so that they can be prepared for the next time Mother Nature inevitably hits again,” Governor Lamont said. “And now here we are, with a wholly inadequate response to another storm. I’m asking PURA to begin this investigation so that we can determine whether the companies are meeting their legal obligations and whether any penalties need to be applied. The people of Connecticut deserve better than the service they are receiving.”

He said he wants the companies to get extra crews into the state to help with the workload.

“I want to make sure that we put every person we can on the table to make sure we’re taking care of this.”

Craig Hallstrom, President of Electric Operations for Eversource Energy, said preparations for the storm started last Thursday.

“Right now, we have approximately 450 electric restoration crews,” he said. That’s line crews, first responders and we have 235 tree crews. That number will double in the next 24 hours as we bring in crews from outside the area…There’s no utility in the country that would staff to handle this type of magnitude of storm every day. We know what the past has been, so we hired hundreds of crews in advance of this storm.”

“I don’t want any excuses,” Lamont said. “We’ll do some assessment over the next five days; to Eversource’s credit, we have over 200,000 people back up, and that’s not good enough for me. I know how this impacts people.”

Lamont said he wants all outages solved by the end of the week.

He is asking PURA to do the following:

  • Consider whether the utilities were adequately prepared and have the resources they need to respond to significant weather events.
  • Evaluate their response and whether it met regulatory and statutory requirements.
  • Determine whether resources that were invested into their outage response system was prudent in light of the recent system failures.
  • Determine whether civil penalties should be applied.

Last week, Lamont called on PURA to investigate recent price hikes in Eversource bills amid the pandemic. The company was asked to suspend the recent rate hike and bring back the normal rates by Aug. 7.

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