As power came back on in Ridgefield after the last major storm, a light bulb lit up over First Selectman Rudy Marconi’s head.
His idea — that CL&P should offer backup generators to its customers at a monthly fee to defray the possibly prohibitive upfront cost — has gained some media attention outside of town and support from area municipal executives.
The first selectman’s call for the utility to “be more creative and think outside the box” about storm response, which The Press reported online Nov. 5 and in the Nov. 8 print edition, has been picked up by the CBS and NBC local channels, WTNH and the Associated Press among other outlets after Mr. Marconi sent a Nov. 21 letter to the utility.
Mr. Marconi formalized his call for the utility to consider the generator when he wrote to William Quinlan, CL&P’s vice president for emergency preparedness, two weeks ago.
After the last three storms “some, but not all members of our community purchased generators for their homes. Unfortunately the majority of residents cannot afford the cost” of a generator and “proper electrical installation,” Mr. Marconi wrote.
“Therefore, it is my request that CL&P investigate and, hopefully, implement a program… that would allow a resident to purchase such equipment based on a monthly payment plan that makes it affordable for every homeowner to have emergency power when necessary…
“This program, if you recall, was available through Yankee Gas for the purchase of hot water heaters for many years,” he wrote, referring to a program that the gas company, which is part of the same company as CL&P, implemented to encourage people to convert their homes to gas.”
Hurricane Sandy was the third storm in little over a year to leave 100% of Ridgefield residents without grid power. After each storm, it took a week for nearly complete recovery here.
Mr. Marconi has criticized the utility and called for it to improve storm response, but he’s changed his approach from harping solely on improving response time to recognizing that a long recovery appears inevitable.
After Irene, the first of the three major storms, struck in August last year, Mr. Marconi was featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams in a segment titled “Power Struggle” that correspondent Anne Thompson described as putting Ridgefield at the story’s “epicenter.”
At that time, Mr. Marconi called for more crews to be brought in more quickly and local electricians to be trained to do basic line work for a quicker response.
The utility did make some improvements, Mr. Marconi said earlier this month. He applauded CL&P for embedding line crews with emergency responders before the storm struck to help respond to 911 calls, and for working quickly to get the Danbury Road corridor online.
However, he added that it seems that even after last year’s storms, the utility has shown it can’t or isn’t willing to get enough crews here in the immediate aftermath of a widespread disaster, so the company should look beyond response time and think about the period between an outage and power restoration.
To handle major storms like the last three, Mr. Marconi said, the town needs 50 crews immediately to have an adequate response. This, he said, was based on ‘microbursts’ a few years ago that did serious but isolated damage in Ridgefield. Since the town was then able to get many crews, he said the response time was adequate.
But after the last few storms, crews have trickled into town in the days after the storm, ultimately numbering more than 100 as they were freed up from other areas.
If CL&P can’t respond quickly and “if you take what happened in those three storms and put it in the month of February, then we have a very, very, very serious issue…” Mr. Marconi said Tuesday. “Not only will it result in frozen pipes and extreme damage to homes but also loss of life.”