Senate sets standards for restoring power after storms


HARTFORD — The Senate on Saturday set new standards for restoring electricity after storm-related outages, including stiff penalties for power companies for missing restoration deadlines.

Lawmakers in both parties and Gov. Dannel Malloy all agreed on the need to set state standards for emergency planning, storm preparations and power restoration.
There was widespread outrage and discontent in Connecticut after the remnants of Hurricane Irene and a freak October snowstorm caused back-to-back record power outages in a two-month span last year.

Hundreds of thousands of people lost power, and some unfortunate customers of Connecticut Light & Power went without electricity for long stretches — nine days after Irene and 11 days after the Oct. 29 nor’easter.

If not for those storm-related outages, state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30) doubted that lawmakers and Malloy would be taking steps to hold electric, gas and telecommunication companies more accountable

“The likelihood of a bill like this passing before we experienced the calamity is probably not great because it was the calamity that triggered us to reexamine what had gone wrong,” he said.

State Rep. Vickie Nardello (D-89) the energy committee’s House chairwoman, and House Speaker Christopher Donovan (D-84) were the first to propose the adoption of utility standards in November.

Nardello said she expects the new standards will reduce the number of outages and lengths of outages in the future.

The legislation passed 34-0 in the Senate.

“The long-term public safety challenges, resulting emergencies, and widespread hardships endured by so many residents last year brought into focus the urgent need for Connecticut to revisit its standards and expectations with regard to both preparedness and response to wholesale power outages, road closures, and resulting dangers,” state Sen. Crisco said in a news release. “The lessons we learned last year, reinforced by a second storm in short order, are addressed in the bill approved (May 5) and I am pleased with the prospects for reduced exposure to comparable risk in the future.”

The legislation would fine power and gas companies 2.5 percent of their annual distribution revenue for missing restoration deadlines.

CL&P had distribution earnings of $110.6 million last year, according to Northeast Utilities, its corporate parent. A 2.5 percent fine would work out to $2,765,000.

Any fines on the penalized utilities will be used to provide a credit to its customers. The bill bars utilities from including any penalty as an operating expense for purposes of ratemaking.

The legislation directs the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to propose standards for minimum staffing and equipment levels, developing restoration plans, filing mutual aid agreements, deploying utility crews, mutual aid crews and private contractors, tree trimming policies and communicating with municipalities and customers.

The bill directs PURA to establish performance standards for an emergency in which more than 10 percent of any utility’s customers are without service for more than 48 consecutive hours.

However, Nardello said the restoration plans must account for outages that vary in duration and in the percentage of customers who are affected.

The bill also requires electric and gas companies to provide an emergency response report to state regulators every April 15 that analyzes their ability to meet the emergency preparedness and response standards during the previous year.