On Wednesday, after wrapping up a post-storm meeting with Eversource CEO James Judge and other company officials, Gov. Ned Lamont expressed his dissatisfaction with the utility. He announced he’s calling for an investigation by the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) into the state’s electricity providers, including Eversource and United Illuminating, on their preparation and response to Tropical Storm Isaias.
“I’m asking PURA to begin this investigation so that we can determine whether the companies are meeting their legal obligations and whether any penalties need to be applied,” he said, adding, “The people of Connecticut deserve better than the service they are receiving.”
His dissatisfaction comes after more than 700,000 Eversource customers were left without power after the storm system slammed into the state on Tuesday, Aug. 4.
At a press conference outside Eversource headquarters, Lamont set a deadline for getting power restored. “We’ve got to get this state up and operating again with a working electric system I want that done overwhelmingly by the end of this week and I’m going to try to hold people accountable as best as I can,” he said.
The utility has long-maintained that it has been investing in resources to be better prepared for large-scale outages that take days to recover from after Connecticut experienced significant weather events a decade ago.
“Now, here we are, with a wholly inadequate response to another storm,” Lamont said, even with Eversource saying they got 200,000 customers back online with power in the first 24 hours. “That’s not good enough for me.”
After his meeting with Eversource officials, Lamont told reporters that he wants the executives to “feel the sense of urgency” and get more crews at work on restoration.
“I want to make sure we put every person we can on the table to make sure we’re taking care of this. I don’t want any excuses, ‘we’re going to do some assessment, we’re going to have to figure things out,’” he said, adding, “Find people wherever you can and get them here.”
Craig Hallstrom, Eversource’s president of regional electric operations, was also at the press conference. “We fully understand[s] the urgency and the magnitude of this event,” he said in defense of the company’s response, holding fast when reporters questioned him on whether the company has neglected to maintain adequate crew staffing.
“This will probably be the second largest storm in the history of the state, [with] more customers impacted than Superstorm Sandy. There’s no utility in the country that would staff to handle this type of magnitude of storm every day,” he said.
Hallstrom noted that there are currently 450 electric restoration/line crews and 235 tree crews working now, with plans to double those numbers by bringing in additional crews from New England and outside the region.
That’s not enough for Lamont, who wants Eversource to do more, even beyond their promise of doubling the number of crews over the next 24 hours. “Don’t stop there, there are plenty of parts of the country, get those people here,” Lamont said.
Just having crews wasn’t enough preparation for Lamont’s satisfaction. “Why weren’t they prepositioned five days ago? We’ll have plenty of time to analyze that later. Right now I have a house on fire, so to speak, and I need the fire department fully staffed, fully peopled, so we can take care of that.”
Hallstrom told reporters the company started its planning for Isaias’ arrival last Thursday, but was not working with any estimate for outages.
According to the Hartford Courant, that wasn’t exactly the case, and that sources on an emergency response call later told the news outlet that Eversource officials “were almost dismissive of the storm.”
“Regulators pointed out that United Illuminating was more prepared for the impact in advance based on paperwork filed Monday by each utility ahead of the storm.
United Illuminating filed that it was preparing for a so-called Level 3 storm, whereas Eversource filed paperwork that it was preparing for a lesser Level 4 storm event with no more than 375,000 outages, documents show.”
Now, post-storm, Eversource has no restoration time to offer as yet either.
Eversource’s resources are being prioritized on restoration to hospitals and nursing homes. In addition, CT Energy Commissioner Katie Dykes explained that a lot of the cell phone towers are on back up power, which is another reason why the focus is on restoring Eversource. “That’s why we need to ensure the utility is prioritizing and being able to reconnect them to commercial power as soon as possible so we don’t have both an electric challenge and a communications challenge at the same time.”
Lamont said he wants to know why Eversource was unprepared after the public was told that the utilities were improving their resources in order to be prepared for serious storms.
“We’re going to see what we’ve learned since Sandy as we’ve tried to harden our grid situation. Eversource has put in hundreds of millions of dollars…things I would have hoped would have limited the scale,” he told reporters.
“I don’t see much progress for all the investments we’ve made in terms of hardening, strengthening, and modernizing our grid.