By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
While apologetic over the power outages from Tropical Storm Isaias, Eversource Energy executives on Aug. 27 defended how the power distribution company handled its storm preparations and response.
Eversource CEO Jim Judge and other top company officials told state legislators that the electric utility was well-prepared, but the storm hit more rapidly, ferociously and widely than forecast predicted, and its high winds caused more than three times the predicted damage
“As it turned out the storm was much more impactful and widespread than anybody had expected,” Judge said.
In his first public comments since Tropical Storm Isaias, he also offered apologies for the prolonged outages that left some customers without electricity for nine days following the Aug. 4 storm.
“I’m sorry for the stress and anxiety that customers and communities are feeling as a result of this devastating storm,” Judge said.
There was significant damage in all 149 cities and towns in Eversource’s service territory, and 1.1 million customers lost power throughout the storm, including 632,000 outages at its peak.
Despite the apologies, Judge declined to commit to voluntarily reimburse customers for spoiled foods and medicines, or to offer customer rebates for time they spent without power.
Democratic and Republican members of the Energy and Technology Committee, upset with the company’s storm response, grilled the Eversource executives for five hours Aug. 27 during an informational hearing.
“You have to do better,” said Senate Chairman Norm Needleman, D-Essex.
Committee members also questioned representatives of United Illuminating concerning its Tropical Storm Isaias performance. Outages struck more than 123,700 of its approximately 339,000 customers in all 17 cities and towns in its service territory in Southwestern Connecticut.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has opened an investigation into the storm preparations and response of Eversource and UI. The companies could be denied recovery costs or penalized if state regulators find they came up short.
The legislative hearing last week also delved into a rate adjustment that appeared in Eversource customers’ July bills that PURA recently suspended while state regulators review the increase in the delivery charge.
Eversource customers inundated PURA, state legislators and the governor’s office with complaints over larger-than-normal electric bills last month.
Company executives told the Energy and Technology Committee that a significant increase summer energy use drove up electric cost more than two recent delivery fee increases.
Judge attributed $55 of a $62 increase in the average July bill to increased usage when many people were working from home during hot weather. He said the other $7 resulted from the rate adjustments.
“The fact of the matter is without a doubt the driving force in increase in the bills was the usage,” Judge said.
Some committee members questioned this assertion.
Eversource executives said customers already on edge because of the coronavirus pandemic were understandably upset over the sudden increases in their July bills, and then outages from Tropical Storm Isaias coming amid a heat wave added to the upset. Judge said one of the lessons learned is Eversource needs to do a better job of communicating to customers about these administrative rate adjustments and spikes in usage that effect monthly bills.
Most of the questioning of the Eversource team Thursday focused on the storm preparations and response.
Committee members said the company failed to keep city and town officials apprised about restoration efforts.
“We really need to improve that,” said Rep. Charles Ferrraro, R-West Haven, the ranking House member.
The Connecticut Council of Small Towns recommended steps be taken to ensure municipal liaisons for Eversource and UI have accurate and timely information on power restoration
COST also complained to the committee that not enough improvements have been made since a state panel released a report in 2012 that included dozens of recommendations for improving emergency preparation in Connecticut.
Committee members had the same complaint about Eversource.
“It is very frustrating to read some of their findings that could have been easily applied to the storm response here,” said Rep. David Arconti, D-Danbury, the House chairman.
Committee members also relayed complaints from local officials about Eversource not giving restoration crews clear orders on where they were needed.