Conn. Senate leaders propose utility penalties
HARTFORD, Conn.—Connecticut utilities would face penalties for taking too long to fix power outages during emergencies under legislation that Senate Democrats proposed Wednesday.
The proposal also requires more tree-trimming to avoid power line damage and small power grids to allow hospitals, police stations, grocery stores and other critical facilities to operate during emergencies.
Senate leaders announced their proposal in response to widespread and lengthy power outages following the remnants of Hurricane Irene in late August and the October snow storm.
"We know folks in Connecticut want not only accountability, but energy security," Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams said at a news conference.
Power was out for as long as 11 days in late October and early November, inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of utility customers and forcing businesses to shut.
The legislation would require the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to develop utility performance standards during emergencies, storms and natural disasters. Standards would address planning, hazard mitigation, staffing and equipment.
PURA would establish penalties that are yet to be determined.
Mitch Gross, spokesman for Connecticut Light & Power, said the state's largest utility, which serves more than 1.2 million customers, looks forward to working with the state on legislation. He said CL&P has met with regional councils of government about how to improve service, assigned town liaisons to all 149 communities CL&P serves and proposed more tree-trimming and several projects to improve wires, poles and other equipment to withstand future storms.
Michael West, a spokesman for United Illuminating, said the utility, which serves 325,000 customers, is concerned the legislation will treat it exactly the same as CL&P even though power was restored a week or more sooner for its customers than for CL&P's customers.
"We fared pretty well in both events," he said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposes adding $2 million for tree-trimming, spending $500,000 on emergency training and $5 million in bond funds for a pilot program to encourage the development of a micro-electric grid.
Senate Democrats would increase that to $300 million in bonds and other funding over 10 years for 150 sites where microgrids would operate, keeping police stations, gas stations, nursing homes and other key facilities operating during emergencies. Some of the money could be returned in the form of electricity generated by the microgrids and sold to a utility.
Microgrids are small-scale versions of electricity systems that generate, distribute and regulate the flow of electricity to consumers. They are smaller networks of local grids, and supporters say they would help avoid the risk of widespread blackouts from storm-related causes or terrorists seeking to disable the power system.
It also places power production closer to the users, improving efficiency of delivery.
Legislation proposed by Senate Democrats also would require utilities to review and revise mutual aid compacts and contracts with major contractors. A report issued after the storm said CL&P failed to put enough repair crews in place before the storm.
Senate Democrats also want more tree-trimming, with particular attention to hazardous trees that could topple in a storm and take down power lines. Sen. John Fonfara, co-chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee, said trees accounted for most of the problems causing the outages.
"We have to focus on that. It might not be the most exciting topic but it's at the heart of the problem," he said.