Members of the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials, which includes Ridgefield, have assessed Connecticut Light & Power Company’s performance during Superstorm Sandy. That assessment has been sent to the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).
PURA has two dockets. One is on best utility practices, an issue she has addressed separately from the HVCEO response. The council’s written statement deals primarily with the utility company’s performance during Superstorm Sandy.
PURA announced its schedule of public hearings last week on the preparation and response of the state’s electric distribution companies and gas companies in restoring service following Sandy. Gov. Dannel Malloy’s storm legislation requires this review when more than 10% of an electric distribution company’s customers are without power for more than 48 consecutive hours.
In its letter to PURA, the council said that while there was some improvement in the CL&P response between 2011 — during Tropical Storm Irene and the nor’easter named Alfred — and 2012 events, the utility “was still under prepared.”
The council asked that PURA take action to remedy remaining public safety problems.
Municipal chief executives were assured before Sandy that there would be sufficient utility crews on standby and prepositioned in the state, the council said. However, “expectations were dashed” when the number of crews was revised by almost 75%, it added.
“It took almost one week to get to the out-of-state crew levels that were promised prior to the storm,” the letter stated.
The council is asking that CL&P be directed to use sufficient resources to preposition crews and that this be made a requirement of its franchise. The council also asked that CL&P be ordered to incur the expenses necessary to reserve out-of-state response resources in advance of a predicted storm and that these crews be on hand before the storm.
There was an inability of out-of-state crews to begin work quickly, the council said. It wants required improvement in the management of these crews.
Crew orientation should begin pre-dawn to save time, it said. “Thousands of daylight crew hours were lost due to the training taken place after daylight had already broken.”
In one council town, the letter said, CL&P’s assigned liaison was reassigned before the storm hit. The substitute was unfamiliar with the town’s response resources, and that proved “detrimental” to effective coordination, according to the council.
Also cited were some deficiencies in CL&P’s internal communication with its liaisons, such as laptop and other communication equipment failures.
Some towns saw delays due to the liaisons’ lack of information about crew activity while other liaisons had more direct control and actually assigned work to crews, the council said.
“Overall, we advise further decentralization of authority to CL&P liaisons assigned to municipalities, thus allowing for more effective management in the field,” the council wrote.
It also cited positive experiences, pointing to the embedding of CL&P crews before the storm with municipal public works crews. This was effective, it noted.
Call center performance
The last issue addressed by the council was call center performance. Council members received many reports of CL&P call centers disseminating inaccurate information, it said. Some residents who contacted CL&P as to the status of restoration times were redirected to town halls for answers, the letter stated.
As elected leaders, council members expect to be fully engaged in communications during a crisis event with their residents, “but CL&P should train its staff to respond to all requests for information. That is the role of the power company, not the municipality,” the letter states.
While town officials have an initial role in setting priorities for restoration of essential emergency and institutional facilities, after this early phase, municipal chief executives have no authority for setting remaining priorities for restoration neighborhood by neighborhood,” the letter said. This should be clarified to CL&P call center staff, the council added.
The council addressed the best practices issue. It noted that crews from Western Massachusetts Electric (WMECo) were able to restore power quickly upon arrival in council towns. This was partly because these crews are cross-trained, both in cutting fallen trees and in power restoration.
“Two different types of staff did not need to wait for each other. Please consider this as a model for CL&P,” the council said.
The council called for the creation of a joint state/utility task force “for the purpose of conducting a thorough cost-benefit analysis and long-term plan for utility infrastructure hardening. The emphasis should be upon relocation of vital components underground as well as aggressive vegetation management.”
The council acknowledged that it is impossible to be fully prepared for a major natural disaster.
It said its suggestions are not difficult to implement “and are needed for CL&P to further improve its response.”
The nearest PURA hearing is set for Monday, Jan. 7, at 6:30 p.m. at Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue.
PURA invites written and electronic comments from the public, including town officials, regarding their experience with the electric and natural gas utility companies in the aftermath of Storm Sandy.
Comments may be filed at ct.gov/pura, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by sending written comments to Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, Executive Secretary’s Office, 10 Franklin Square, New Britain CT 06051.