Some CT residents now can get money after lengthy power outages. Here's how

Photo of Luther Turmelle
An electric meter

An electric meter

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NEW BRITAIN — Connecticut utility regulators have, for the first time, established rules governing whether residential electric customers of The United Illuminating Co. and Eversource Energy will be eligible to receive credits and other compensation for spoiled food and medicine following weather-related emergencies.

The state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority issued its final ruling Wednesday in a case that has its roots in widespread and lengthy power outages in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias in August 2020. The new rules go into effect Thursday; prior to the ruling, the utilities had their own standards for when customers would qualify for bill credits and other compensation following storms.

Under the newly approved rules, UI and Eversource customers who go without power for 96 consecutive hours may qualify to get a $25 bill credit for each 24-hour period beyond that. Customers experiencing outages of less than 24 hours beyond the 96-hour period get no credit, PURA officials said.

The decision also authorizes residential customers to receive $250 in compensation for medication and/or food spoiled or expired because of outages longer than 96 consecutive hours.

Customers must seek spoilage compensation through filed claims. Spoilage claims will be paid via check to the eligible residential customer, unless a bill credit is requested through the claims process.

In the event customers are eligible for either credit, PURA’s decision requires the electric utilities to provide these credits within two months of the major storm or emergency.

A top level executive for Eversource said it will be “extremely difficult” for the electric distribution company to avoid having to make the bill credits and other forms of compensation if the state is hit by a storm as destructive as Isaias or worse this summer.

“We’ve testified in all of the hearings on this and we don't agree with it,” Craig Hallestrom, Eversource’s president of regional electric operations for Connecticut and Massachusetts said Wednesday. “You're not going to take a 9-day or 10-day storm event and turn it into a 4-day event, and we certainly don’t want to give customers any unrealistic expectations.”

Hallestrom said Eversource has an emergency plan for restoring power filed with the state “and these new rules don’t mesh with that.”

One uncertainty about PURA’s plan is when the 96-hour threshold starts, he said. Normally, utility companies don’t send repair crews up utility poles to begin repairs until after sustained wind speeds drop below 40 mph.

“Who decides when the clock starts ticking?” Hallestrom said. “It appears the clock starts when the weather clears. But who makes that determination?”

Hallestrom said the company is “reviewing the decision and evaluating our alternatives,” when asked whether the PURA ruling would be appealed.

“We are very concerned that PURA’s decision imposes an unreasonable time limit on our restoration work and creates concerns for many levels of our storm response, including public safety,” he said.

PURA’s ruling when the 96-hour period begins “can be determined using information available from independent meteorological services, state or federal agencies, and the criteria used by the EDCs (electrical distribution companies) to determine when restoration or Make Safe work can safely commence.”

PURA’s ruling direct the electric utilities to use the following criteria:

 The expiration of a NWS (National Weather Service) warning.

 An official declaration issued by a state or federal agency, related to an emergency event.

 (A determination) based on meteorological data, the point at which the EDC could safely deploy resources into the field, including damage assessors, to commence the restoration and recovery phase.

Officials with from the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers told officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that PURA’s ruling is arbitrary “and puts our members in harm’s way.”

“Power can not be safely restored in 96 hours when a major storm occurs,” the letter sent to James Frederick, an assistant secretary with OSHA, said in part. OSHA is part of the U.S. Department of Labor.

luther.turmelle@hearstmediact.com