UI gets good marks from state agency on post-Sandy power restoration
Published 7:59 am, Saturday, August 31, 2013
State regulators say Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating did an acceptable job restoring power after Superstorm Sandy ripped through the state last year.
A Public Utilities Regulatory Authority review of the utilities' response to the Oct. 29 storm found that both companies "performed in a generally acceptable manner in preparing and responding to the storm" that left nearly 500,000 customers in the dark.
Although the review largely praised both companies, PURA found UI needs to improve its restoration forecasts. The agency also chided both companies for focusing too much on municipalities.
"UI and CL&P should be mindful of the impact of over-commitment of resources to municipal assistance, and not allow resources to be allocated to non-critical functions in a manner that is detrimental to the general restoration effort," PURA said in the report.
The conclusion by state regulators, however, conflicts with some municipal officials who blasted UI and CL&P for prolonged outages caused by the massive storm.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau criticized UI's response on several occasions in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
In particular, he faulted the utility on its allocation of power-restoration resources. "Yesterday, we had one UI crew," Tetreau said two days after the storm struck. "Today we had three. That's not enough. Where are the crews?"
Several days later, as power still had not been fully restored, Tetreau expressed greater frustration.
"I appreciate that UI is doing its best to get our numbers down, but we lost the first two or three days because they took so long to get in here," he said. "Power could have been restored by now if they responded quicker."
And while the town had been visited post-storm by a bevy of state and federal officials, Tetreau said local officials had not heard anything from UI officials nearly a week later.
"I'm just so disgusted and frustrated," he said. "Where's the caring from UI for the people who are without power and cold in their homes? Because we initially didn't have the numbers of some of the other communities, they only sent us one crew in the beginning; it's all about the number of outages and not what the community needs."
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch claimed his city had been "shortchanged" by UI in the wake of the storm, and accused the utility of focusing on wealthy suburbs.
Asked to comment last week on the state's review, Finch avoided the confrontational rhetoric of last year.
"We know that United Illuminating encountered many challenges restoring power to Bridgeport residents and business during (Superstorm) Sandy," Finch said. "We commend them for the work they've done in the months since the storm, to review their response procedures and begin fortifying their substations.
"Working together with UI, we will review the critical facilities response list so we have the best interests of all our residents in mind when making decisions about power restoration with a greater emphasis on the most vulnerable populations," Finch said. "We look forward to continuing the great partnership we share with UI and its workers, both in storm response and other important energy projects throughout the city."
Michael West, a UI spokesman, attributed much of last year's criticism to the pressure politicians face during prolonged outages.
"Everyone is under pressure during these times and it has a lot to do with it," West said. "I think this certainly is a good acknowledgement on the state level. We work hard on storm response and we are always planning."
CL&P officials also were pleased with the review.
"It is welcome news to hear that all of the hard work, dedication and customer focus of our employees has been recognized by our regulators," said Bill Quinlan, the CL&P senior vice president of emergency preparedness.
PURA said both companies properly prepared for the storm and brought in a sufficient number of outside linemen and tree-trimming crews.
Regulators also noted that both utilities performed better during Sandy than during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and the freak October snowstorm a few months later, both of which left some without power for 10 days.
The PURA review was mandated by laws passed several years ago in an effort to hold utilities accountable for how they handle storm damage and power restoration.
While fines can be issued for poor performance, PURA's review indicates it is unlikely either utility will face sanctions because of their Superstorm Sandy response.