Connecticut Governor Seeks Storm Exercises, Utility Standards

January 13, 2012

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced this week that he will propose legislation that could lead to new performance standards for all utilities and could penalize them with fines if they fall short in their response to storms and other emergencies.

“Other states have moved in that direction. I think it’s time that we moved in that direction,” Malloy said. “We need to have standards and we need to hold people accountable to those standards, with the expectation that they are actually going to meet those standards.”

The proposal is part of a package of recommendations to improve Connecticut’s disaster response following Hurricane Irene in August and a freak October snowstorm, both of which knocked out electricity to much of the state for days. Malloy unveiled his initiatives during a news conference in Simsbury, where some residents were left without power for 12 days after the October storm.

The Democratic governor’s initiatives come days after his working group released 82 recommendations. The group, called the Two Storm Panel, was charged with reviewing the preparedness, response and recovery efforts of the state, utilities, municipalities and others following the remnants of Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm.

A private firm, Witt Associates, recently provided Malloy with additional recommendations following its review of how the state’s electric utilities prepared for and responded to the two massive storms. Malloy’s administration used the two reports, plus its own work, to come up with the package of proposals.

“I hope, along with a lot of folks, that we never have a year like we just had,” Malloy said. “But we can’t count on that.”

Some of the proposals can be imposed by state agencies; an executive order signed by Malloy; the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, or PURA; or legislative action. Some of the details of the proposals are still being determined.

Malloy’s plan calls for increasing the Department of Transportation’s $550,000 tree maintenance budget by $1 million and holding a real-time statewide preparedness training exercise before September at a cost of up to $650,000. He also proposed a pilot program to create micro-electric grids in city centers, generating power for a limited location.

Daniel Esty, commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said there are also plans to launch an enforcement division under PURA to monitor how well utilities comply with any new rules and standards.

Esty said work still needs to be done to determine how best to create performance standards for the utilities, including electric and wireless communications. He said a similar law in Massachusetts hasn’t led to penalties because the standards that the utilities must meet, such as restoring power within a certain amount of time, have been difficult to benchmark.

“I would really like to look across the country at what the best practices are and try to adopt that from wherever they are,” he said. “I don’t know if Massachusetts has the definitive model, but we will look carefully and try to create something that’s workable.”

Esty said the number of on-staff line utility crews could be part of the standards set by PURA.

Malloy said he also plans to ask PURA to take up the issue of “hardening,” or strengthening, the state’s electrical system to help prevent outages. An official from Connecticut Light & Power, the state’s largest electric utility, recently suggested that reliability could be improved with a $2.5 billion investment in hardening some of the electric infrastructure.

Malloy also wants PURA to quickly review the utilities’ latest tree-trimming plans to prevent excessive downed power lines during the next storm that hits Connecticut.

Northeast Utilities, the parent company of CL&P, said it’s open to working with state officials.

“We agree with Governor Malloy that we all must work together to take a collaborative, statewide approach to emergency preparedness and recovery,” Northeast Utilities said in a statement. “We also look forward to working with the governor and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to explore practical investments to make our energy delivery systems more weather resistant for sustained long term energy reliability.”

Malloy’s recommendations are just one of three efforts under way to address the utilities’ storm preparation and storm response. State Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, co-chairwoman of the General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee, said PURA has hired a consultant to do an even more in-depth review of CL&P’s and The United Illuminating Co.’s responses during the storm. Preliminary recommendations are due before Feb. 1.

Also, she said, a full-fledged management audit that’s under way will look into the inner workings of the electric utility companies and will detail where changes need to be made.

Regardless of which recommendations are approved, Nardello said she expects the state will step up its reviews of the power companies.

“We are going to have ongoing monitoring, ongoing compliance, ongoing enforcement,” Nardello said. “And I think that that’s going to be important.”

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