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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

On Sandy, CL&P Better But Not Great

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By James Lomuscio

While Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) performed better restoring power after October’s Storm Sandy that it did following last year’s Storm Irene, improvements are needed in restoration preparedness, technology and communication.

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Westport Fire Chief Andy Kingsbury addresses the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority hearing at Westport Town Hall tonight. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Those were some of the comments aired tonight at the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) public hearing in the Westport Town Hall auditorium about the utility’s response to Storm Sandy.

Though PURA Director Michael Caron said the investigation would look at gas companies and all electrical distribution companies statewide, CL&P was the focus for the six who spoke at the meeting that drew a sparse crowd of under 25.

“Overall, there has been improvement in CL&P’s response to the recent storm events that have hit this area, but much remains to be done,” said First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. “While recognizing that Storm Sandy covered a wider area of the northeast than past storms, there needs to be improvement in the mutual aid system that provides additional crews to CL&P during storm events.

Joseloff noted that even CL&P President and Chief Operating Officer William Herdegen acknowledged the need for improvements when he visited Westport’s Emergency Operations Center during the storm.

“The company was unable to get all additional crews it requested here in a timely manner,” said Joseloff. “He told me there needs to be an overhaul of the mutual response system used by the nation’s power companies.”

According to Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, who also serves as the town’s emergency management director, Sandy damaged 300 homes, 260 of them flooded, and 88 percent of the town was left without power. Compounding the problem is that 400 town roads were left impassable, “and it took six days to get the last road opened.”

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Public Utilities Regulatory Authority Director Michael Caron questions a speaker at tonight’s hearing at Westport Town Hall. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“CL&P needs to reach across state boundaries and straighten out mutual aid,” said Kingsbury. “They need to be here a couple of days earlier.”

Joseloff agreed, saying that one of the biggest problems “dogging us during every storm is that CL&P does not have enough personnel to declare wires safe for removal by our town public works personnel.”

“This creates unnecessary delays –- sometimes days -– in clearing roads,” Joseloff said. “There has been talk of hiring retired utility workers to do this or perhaps training licensed local electricians to do such work. This needs to be a priority. We have had promises of improvement in this area, but frankly we see no evidence of such.”

Joseloff also stressed that there is no reason for residents left without power “to wait two, or three or more days for outside crews and their trucks to drive hundreds or a thousand miles to reach our area or any stricken area” given the nation’s military airlift capabilities.

“Cutting several days from time needed to restore power should be a national security priority,” said Joseloff.

He added that once some of the outside crews did arrive, they seemed better prepared than CL&P crews to handle some of the emergencies.

“For example, many of them were self-contained in that they were able to do tree work and line work with the same personnel,” he said. “PURA needs to pursue these kinds of operational efficiencies with our power companies.”

His comments were reiterated by state Rep. Jonathan Seinberg who said, “It’s having the people and the plan in place.”

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State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg told the hearing CL&P’s infrastructure is out of date. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“How much of this is preparation, and how much of this is technology?” Steinberg asked, noting that CL&P’s infrastructure is out of date. A case in point was one mentioned by Joseloff, the fact that CL&P requires a
faxed hard copy of information about downed wires as opposed to emailed photos and texts.

Frank Cirillo, business manager for the Waterbury-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 420, took aim at CL&P management, saying that they did not come up through the ranks as linemen, but from other businesses.

As a result, he said, his 500-member union is more than half what it was in 1985, when 763 crews and 262 tree cutters had 99 percent of the state’s power restored five days after Hurricane Gloria hit.

“They (CL&P management) were bringing in 2,000 outside crews, and they can’t handle the work, Cirillo said, because unlike CL&P workers, they do not know the lay of the land.

“We used to be real good,” said Cirillo, adding that deregulation cut into his union’s membership, leaving repairs to outsiders.

According to CL&P spokeswoman Tricia Taskey Modifica, the utility contracted more than 3,000 work crews from 25 states and Canada to help restore power following Sandy.

PURA’s Caron noted that this was the second of three hearings, with the first held in East Haven on Jan. 3 and a third scheduled for Waterford Town Hall on Jan. 15.

Posted 01/08 at 02:31 AM

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