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PURA, Rilling agree: Eversource has fallen short

A tree fallen by Tropical Storm Isaias blocks Grumman Avenue late Thursday morning, just north of the Cranbury Park exit at Kensett Road. A Norwalk Recreation and Parks Department crew was busy inside the park cleaning up. (Harold F. Cobin)

Updated 2:40 p.m.: New photo and information.

CONNECTICUT – The chair of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said Wednesday that Eversource underestimated the threat of Tropical Storm Isaias, preparing for an outage less than half of its peak: more than 800,000 among Eversource customers and more than one million overall in Connecticut.

That included 14,000 Norwalk residents as of 7 p.m., Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said.

“This was indeed a major storm and very close to the impact that we had from super storm Sandy. However, I believe that Eversource has not provided the necessary resources to restore power in a timely fashion,” Rilling wrote. “… I have been trying to communicate with Eversource to convey my displeasure but have not received an appropriate response.”

PURA is opening an investigation of Eversource and the state’s other power company, United Illuminating, at the request of Gov. Ned Lamont, said Marissa P. Gillett, the chair of the regulatory authority. Gillett spoke to reporters outside Eversource offices in Berlin after Lamont, Gillett and others met with the utility’s top leaders.

Gillett said preparation plans filed by UI and Eversource showed that UI accurately projected the storm’s threat, while Eversource, which serves customers in 149 of the state’s 169 cities and towns, did not. Lamont said he was not happy with Eversource’s preparation or sense of “urgency” about restoring services, though he said his immediate focus was on seeing most customers get power back by the end of the week.

Rilling said, “The latest information we have, is it may be 5 to 10 days before full power restoration in the City Of Norwalk. That is totally unacceptable.”

“On numerous occasions in the past, we in the city of Norwalk have participated in a table top exercise at which Eversource was a participant,” Rilling said. “The plans we had in place were not executed by Eversource during this situation. I have communicated my displeasure with our state and federal delegations.”

 

Eversource prepared for less severe storm

Katie Dykes, the commissioner of energy and environmental protection, said the administration wants PURA to examine what Eversource has done with ratepayer money to harden its infrastructure, hire sufficient staff and pre-stage extra crews in advance of the storm.

From left, Katie Dykes of DEEP, Gov. Ned Lamont and Marissa Gillett of PURA on Eversource’s lawn. (Mark Pazniokas, CTMirror.org)

“This is their job. This is what they do. They are a reliability infrastructure company. And what we pay them to do in our rates is to be prepared for an event like this — and especially when you are in the middle of a pandemic,” Dykes said.

Craig Hallstrom, the president of regional electric operations for Eversource, appeared with Lamont, but he left before Gillett and Dykes made their comments.  Jim Judge, the chairman, president and chief executive, participated in the private briefing but did not meet with reporters.

Documents made public Wednesday show that UI informed PURA it was declaring the coming storm a “level 3 event,” which anticipates that 30 percent to 50 percent of UI customers would be affected, with outages that could last five days or more. Eversource prepared for a milder “level 4 event,” which anticipates 10 percent to 29 percent of customers affected, with outages lasting two to six days.

Hallstrom said 450 line crews and 235 tree crews were at work, a number that would double in the next 24 hours as out-of-state crews arrive. About 250 of the 450 line crews were Eversource employees based in Connecticut, while the others were contractors who regularly work for the utility.

“We fully understand the magnitude of this event,” he said.

Isiais was “one of the most devastating storms ever” and “restoration will be over multiple days,” State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) said on social media, at noon. He continued:

“{Eversource} crews from New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts will be coming in shortly once they finish the repairs there. (Hopefully today.)

“First to get restored are areas with 911 calls, critical facilities then largest restoration on down.
“Local DPW crews are out clearing roads. Some roads cannot be cleared until Eversource clears their hazards.
“Mayor Rilling, his staff and I are in constant contact.”

 

“Traffic lights are out throughout the City,” Norwalk Deputy Director of Emergency Management Michele DeLuca wrote at 10 a.m.

“More than 200 damage reports have been called in. More than 12,000 outages have been reported to Eversource and all territory served by SNEW is without power,” DeLuca wrote. Calf Pasture, Veterans Park and Cranbury Park were closed so they could be safely cleared.

Most of Eversource’s Norwalk territory was without power at 6 p.m., including at least half of Main Avenue, portions of Westport Avenue and East Avenue. The Cranbury section was without power and there were no Eversource crews anywhere. East Norwalk seemed to be in the best shape.

At 10 p.m., Eversource reported that 12,795 of its Norwalk customers, or 40 percent, were without power. That was about the time an Eversource truck was seen on Grumman Avenue.

Power was restored to Main Avenue on Thursday morning. At 2:42 p.m., Eversource reported that 11,696 of its Norwalk customers, or 37.27 percent, were without power.

The utility said Wednesday night that power had been restored to 214,000 customers statewide, while more than 625,000 were in the dark. An initial assessment found damage at 14,475 locations, including 214 broken poles, 90 damaged transformers, and 1,400 spans of downed wire. Nearly 1,000 trees will have to be cleared.

This house on Olney Road in Wethersfield was on Lamont’s damage tour. (Mark Pazniokas, CTMirror.org)

About 25 percent of UI’s 337,451 customers still were blacked out Wednesday night. The company serves 17 communities, including Bridgeport and New Haven.

Later, Eversource issued a statement defending and explaining its preparations:

“As a storm approaches, we engage a variety of different resources – including UConn’s predictive model and experts from outside weather services – to track the storm and forecast its severity and path. Based on the tools and guidance we received from our external experts, we followed our plan and filed for the appropriate level of classification. From the time we declared our initial level based on our best available tracking models at the end of last week, the storm’s path deviated from those models and we’ve reclassified the storm accordingly as our models dictated, which is a typical utility practice once a storm hits.”

 

State officials ask ‘why?’

Lamont, whose standing has soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, pivoted Wednesday to the prospect of a prolonged blackout in the heat and humidity of mid-summer.

Tropical Storm Isaias’ brief but violent sprint through Connecticut on Tuesday left residential and business customers without power, making Lamont the proxy for consumers eager to know when they can expect light and air conditioning.

Hallstrom had no detailed explanation of why a storm that arrived in Connecticut with less than hurricane winds was so destructive. He said the damage assessment was continuing, but he expected the storm to rank as the second-worst for outages, more than the 500,000 the company experienced in Super Storm Sandy.

Earlier, outside the town hall in Wethersfield during a tour of storm damage in central Connecticut, the governor waved off questions about the preparedness of the two public utilities for a wind storm that caused what Lamont said then was  likely to be the state’s third-largest power outage. Ultimately, he said later, it may rank higher.

“Rather than do a debrief on what went wrong, we’re going to make sure we make things right for next three or four days — then we’ll have plenty of time for what ifs,” Lamont said.

But Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, who co-chairs of the Energy and Technology Committee, pressed Eversource for more details about the personnel assigned to restoring power to Connecticut.

It seems illogical, he said, that Tropical Storm Isaias, despite speeds that exceeded 60 mph at times, could have caused more than 600,000 outages in just five hours.

Eversource has not provided the state with its peak outages, but Gillett said it could top 800,000.

“How did that lead to one of the worst outages in the history of Connecticut?” Needleman said.

Gov.Ned Lamont inspects damage to a home partly crushed by an uprooted oak in Wethersfield. At right is the fire marshal and deputy chief, Anthony Dignoti. (Mark Pazniokas, CTMirror.org)

The Essex lawmaker said he fears the utility has not maintained sufficient line support and other maintenance staff in Connecticut in recent years, instead relying on temporarily shifting crews from its affiliates in New Hampshire and Massachusetts when necessary — or by relying on mutual aid from utilities in other states.

Lamont said he spoke by phone to the top executives of both utilities earlier about the recovery, and that more than 1,000 crews are working on restoration, with help coming from New Hampshire and Vermont.

Eversource, the state’s largest provider of electricity, already is the target of consumer ire over a rate hike and sharply higher electric bills while people are home during the pandemic, and because of past responses to weather events. Eversource also serves Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The utility, then called Northeast Utilities, which merged in 2012 with Boston-based NSTAR and was rebranded Eversource Energy, faced heavy criticism after two major 2011 storms — Tropical Storm Irene and an October Nor’easter — both led to hundreds of thousands of outages.

State legislators and a panel commissioned by then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy particularly chided the utility at that time for under-investing in tree-trimming work in the first decade of the 2000s. NU and United Illuminating countered that state utility regulators allowed this level of tree-trimming work to occur in exchange for limiting electric rate increases.

The long tail of those policies was clear Wednesday, as Lamont and Michael Rell, Wethersfield’s Republican mayor, viewed storm damage, including an apartment building that lost its roof and a small post-war Cape nearly crushed by a massive oak uprooted in the storm.

“Wethersfield is pretty resilient. We had a tornado in 2009. The governor at that time, I called her up and said, ‘Hey, mom, you want to come down here?’” Rell said.

Lamont laughed.

Rell’s mother is M. Jodi Rell.

“Your mom sent me a nice note the other day,” Lamont said.

The 2009 tornado passed through Michael Rell’s backyard.

“We’re not as bad, I don’t think, as 2009, but it’s pretty bad,” Rell said.

NancyOnNorwalk reporters Nancy Chapman and Harold Cobin contributed to this story.

The Eversource outage map, at 10:45 p.m.

14 comments

Bryan Meek August 6, 2020 at 7:03 am

You have to love the shameless politicians who have to ask why we have this service level…..the very same politicians who pass and support laws that guarantee this kind of abysmal service demand answers. What happens when Eversource simply shows them a mirror?

Bob Duff was cautioned about what impact his insane legislation to make us “green” would do. It would ensure the providers would have to cut every corner possible to achieve their insane goals while At the same time crushing homeowners and businesses with the highest electricity rates in the country when we were the country’s only state who has yet to recover from the 2008 recession. And people wonder why the states breadwinners are moving out as quickly as possible. Keep voting for these self interested politicians and enjoy!

Bryan Meek August 6, 2020 at 7:06 am

Oh and Eversource isn’t to be held harmless, even if PURA, who is appointed by Bob Duff and team rubber stamp every stupid thing they ask for…..including the $55 million cost to rebrand from CL&P. That was the cost to paint all the trucks, change names, etc…..WE paid for that as if we didn’t know it was still CL&P.

Paul Cantor August 6, 2020 at 11:23 am

Eversource failures are outrageous:

The failure to be prepared for the storm 8 years after Sandy.

The failure to provide accurate information to their customers regarding when power is likely to be restored. When people called for information they received a recorded message informing them about how they could pay their bill.

The failure to restore power in a timely manner. Since Monday afternoon our house and the homes of others who depend on wells have been without power or water.

And this during the pandemic!

Hopefully local officials will do everything they can to speed up the process of restoring power to Norwalk residents.

And water should be delivered to those who depend on wells that are no longer functioning due to the power outage. Even one extra day without a readily available water supply in the heat of summer is too long.

Obviously this message is not being written at home.

Tim Hefferan August 6, 2020 at 3:54 pm

I dislike not having electricity as much as anyone – we are all spoiled I think. But before you jump on the social media bandwagon of accusing Eversource, or anyone else, of being negligent, do you have all of the facts? By the way some letter writers chime in-on almost everything- they must.
New Canaan Ave got hit very hard. It’s a little under 2 days, and all 3 spots are cleared, with new power lines. I suppose the serial writers wanted that to happen in 1 day, or less.
As for facts, here is what I wish I knew:
1. How many trees fell on wires and disrupted service, statewide? Of course, some trees cause much more damage than others, therefore difficult to answer I’m sure.
2. How many workers / how long does it take, on average, to clear a sizable tree and rerun the wires?
3. How many workers are there? Tree, electric, cable, etc.
4. Is the fact that there are usually tree limbs, cable, electric, and fiber optic wires mixed up in most messes a factor? Likely a dumb question….
5. How many hours a day can x amount of workers work?
Seems these are the questions which need investigation, although I can think of 5-6 people who write in, often, with all the answers..
Looking forward to their answers. To those who go into attack mode, best to email me directly- I do not do the back n forth thing on social media. [email protected]
If Eversource is in the wrong, then I hope it gets fixed, or improved.
My guess is, it’s a huge storm, and it takes time. But what do I know – clearly not as much as those 5-6.

NiZ August 6, 2020 at 4:01 pm

so is the suspended increases going back into affect? or they still waiting for the elections? increases were approved by our representatives and now it is suspended, and now we had a crazy storm and and and… ugh

Cosmo Morabito August 6, 2020 at 5:01 pm

No power for how many days, let’s count!!! Then see if Eversource deducts that from your bill!!???
If you don’t pay, wait for all the calls and time to get that deducted from your bill.

John ONeill August 6, 2020 at 6:19 pm

I may be missing something. I believe Chris Perone from hard hit East Norwalk is on the Energy committee. Has Chris enlightened Norwalk residents about Eversource and their service history? I agree with Tim Hef that we need all the facts to come out before blasting away. That said, I would think Chris Perone should be able to give us the history of what has gone on with the energy committee over the past few years regarding Eversource and service issues. There are many who have dropped the ball, and CT residents are again paying big time for other’s mistakes. Am I the only one getting tired of paying for others mistakes/agendas? I pray every night just like my hero Nancy Pelosi, but it doesn’t seem to help. Its just not right…Maybe I need a face lift?

longtimedem August 6, 2020 at 9:22 pm

Isn’t the Third Taxing District (not Eversource) responsible for electrical transmission in East Norwalk?

(PS: John O’Neill — glad you re-started your American Heroes series with Nancy Pelosi.)

Bryan Meek August 7, 2020 at 10:16 am

TTD who had power back to most of its customers within a few hours does not serve all of East Norwalk. Eversource serves the area roughly between Strawberry Hill ave and the river. Some of those customers just came back yesterday and some are still out.

Bryan Meek August 7, 2020 at 10:17 am

Don’t worry about Pelosi Antoinette’s $12 a pint ice cream. That’s just fine in her sub zero double freezer we paid for.

John ONeill August 7, 2020 at 10:55 am

@Longtimedem Wouldn’t you agree that as a member of energy committee Chris Perone should have a few tidbits to throw our way in current situation? Such as when Eversource presented plan for this storm to the state what bureaucrat in Hartford didn’t question their underestimating the storm’s potential? In the meantime send me your address so I can send you first addition Henry Dachowitz T-shirt. Your comment was well received here.

longtimedem August 7, 2020 at 5:19 pm

Hey, Bryan. I guess you and I differ on what constitutes “East Norwalk”. I’ve always thought of East Norwalk as being the area of the Third Taxing District (oh, that pesky “Taxing” when they don’t tax…). But not a serious disagreement. The TTD normally does a pretty good job of getting the lights back on, and I’m glad to hear they did this time as well.

As for you, John, I’ll take a pass on the Henry Dachowitz T-shirt. I prefer my clothing to flatter me, rather than point out my all-too-many flaws.

George August 7, 2020 at 8:39 pm

Eversource did not underestimate anything. The crews did a “job action” the night before the storm and did not answer any calls.

It is very simple to do and forces the State and management’ hand.

Bryan Meek August 7, 2020 at 10:57 pm

@LTD. I don’t disagree…but boundaries morph beyond taxing zones. I bet most people who live south and east of City Hall consider themselves to be in EN. Regardless, TTD is the model for public power. CL&P d/b/a Eversource, not so much.

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