Ridgefield seeks power outage complaints for PURA hearing
RIDGEFIELD — “If we get a storm in the next two weeks, three weeks, we’ll have to deal with the same situation,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.
He was talking about Eversource’s response time to the damage from Tropical Storm Isaias, which put Ridgefielders out of power for days, some up to a week — and what he considers a continuing lack of cooperation from the utility company on readiness for another storm.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” Marconi told the selectmen. “I know the people are going to be extremely upset, and we’re not going to have any answers for them. And we’re not going to get anything out of Eversource.”
Marconi wants Ridgefielders — as many as he can get — to email the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) detailing their experiences, and any losses, from Isaias.
State regulators need to learn how hard Isaias hit Ridgefield — stories and specifics — in time for PURA hearings, town officials say.
Residents are asked to submit a timeline of their outage, interactions and restoration of power by Oct. 16 to be included in the PURA hearing involving Eversource, said Gerri Lewis, of the Ridgefield Office of Emergency Management.
Outage information can be shared with PURA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and referencing Docket No. 20-08-03, Lewis said.
Town officials said people emailing PURA about the storm should copy Marconi at email@example.com.
The town encouraged people to add emails concerning the smaller but swift and violent storm that knocked out power to 200 Ridgefielders on Aug. 27.
Isaias knocked out power to more than 8,400 homes and businesses in Ridgefield — 77 percent of Eversource’s customers.
Marconi told the Board of Selectman during its meeting last week that about 30 Ridgefield complaints have been filed so far with PURA.
“I’m surprised we’ve only gotten 30 responses, “ Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said. “With the outrage I’ve heard from people, I’d have thought more people would participate in that.”
Marconi said the town would do more publicity.
The stories show the utility’s lack of collaboration with town, and its general lack of organization, Marconi said.
“Some people got a text: ‘We’re on the scene, you could be up in four hours’ — and all of a sudden it’s three days later and they haven’t heard anything,” Marconi said.
And it’s not just Ridgefield. People around the state who are unhappy with Eversource’s storm response are also weighing in.
“The public dissatisfaction with Eversource is overwhelming,” Marconi said, “and hopefully it’s going to have an impact.”
Ridgefield made a joint PURA filing with the towns of Newtown and New Fairfield.
“We were recognized as official interveners, the three communities,” Marconi said.
Other towns, such as Bethel and Darien, want to join the action before PURA, which the selectmen said could help share the legal costs.
Danbury and Bethel have opted to sue Eversource, Marconi said, and various other parties — from the state attorney general to the legislature — are taking actions against Eversource, including steps that could lead to fines and penalties.
Ridgefield also wants to work with Eversource. Marconi would like to have the town assigned a specific line crew that could establish a working relationship with the town emergency workers and be available after a storm to make sure ambulances and fire engineers can get where they’re needed.
“We want PURA to take action to get Eversource to sit down with us now,” Marconi said.
Among Marconi’s complaints is that Eversource affected the town’s communication with the people who were supposed to act as liaisons.
The liaisons “were specifically told not to discuss” arrangements or plans for line crews with first selectmen and mayors “because the chief elected officials only get in the way,” Marconi said. “Very arrogant on their part.”
Marconi didn’t fault the liaisons. They were being instructed not to share information with the towns — putting them in a very awkward position.
“You could hear it in their voices,” Marconi said. “They were as frustrated as we were.”
“They were specifically told not to communicate with us,” Marconi said.
“That’s disturbing,” said Selectman Bob Hebert.
The towns involved in the legal action before PURA will share the costs, and Kozlark said they should also agree on procedures for dealing with the attorneys.
“I just think maybe we have to codify how we’re going to handle communication between the attorneys and the different municipalities — its just done fairly, everybody on the same page, everybody has the same access, you don’t have one community running up a bill with the attorneys that everybody has to share in,” she said. “I’m just thinking we need to spell it out a little bit.”
Selectman Sean Connelly raised another cost concern.
“The bigger question I have: At some point, we’ll need to understand what we’re in for. Is it a $50,000 budget item for us? is it $150,000?” he said. “...Is there a point where we say this is too much.”
“They’ll give us an estimate,” Selectwoman Barbara Manners said of the lawyers. “...What I’d like to put in there is they will not exceed the estimate by more than 5 percent.”
“Zero percent above,” Connelly said.
If the three towns have authorized a certain figure, he said, that should be a firm cap unless amended.
“I’d argue the three first selectmen would have to authorize anything above that,” he said.
“We want to be sure we’re careful with taxpayers dollars,” he said, “and be sure the money we spend is worth the results we get.