Speakers at utilities hearing offer ways to improve storm response

Robert Dixon, left, a contract employee for United Reporters, documents through computer assisted voice-to-text dictation the testimony of John McDonald of Central Village Tuesday during a hearing at Waterford Town Hall.
Robert Dixon, left, a contract employee for United Reporters, documents through computer assisted voice-to-text dictation the testimony of John McDonald of Central Village Tuesday during a hearing at Waterford Town Hall. Tim Martin/The Day

Editor's Note: A paraphrase of remarks by Gary Streimer has been corrected to more accurately reflect his comments.



Waterford — Better preparation by residents, quicker response by utility crews, more and better trained workers and a prioritized order for outage repairs that is shared with the public would improve post-storm power restoration efforts, speakers told state utility regulators Tuesday.

"The biggest failure was that of Connecticut residents to prepare for the storm," said John McDonald of Central Village, the first of five speakers at a hearing hosted by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. "I think we're bound for more and bigger storms, and if people are not prepared for these large storms, what we saw during Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm will be a drop in the bucket."

This was the last of three PURA public hearings this month as it assesses the preparation and response of Connecticut Light & Power, United Illuminating and natural gas companies to Sandy in October. While only five of the 30 people who attended the hearing spoke, Michael Caron, PURA director, said the turnout was better than the previous two hearings. Two people spoke at the hearing in East Haven, while six spoke at the hearing in Westport, he said. Local legislators and town officials as well as utility company representatives were among those who attended all three.

"We're here to listen," said Mitch Gross, spokesman for CL&P, which had about a half million of its customers in all 149 of the towns it serves without power as a result of the superstorm.

McDonald and Tony Sheridan, president of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, both said utilities deserve praise for their response, given the massive outages.

Comparing the Sandy response to how well the utilities performed after Tropical Storm Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm, Sheridan said, "there was a vast improvement." He added that he was without power at his home for a week.

Groton resident Joan Byer, however, said she saw no improvement. After both Irene and Sandy, she said, she was without power for six days.

"I did not see a utility truck in my area for five days," she said.

Gary Streimer of Mystic said the public needs to be told how the utility is prioritizing power restoration efforts. He also suggested that utilities install industrial-sized generators in areas such as downtown Mystic.

CL&P is not adequately staffed to cope with massive outages, according to John Fernandez, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Locals 420 and 457, which represents utility workers in eastern Connecticut.

"We've been screaming all summer that we're down on hiring, and there's no attrition planning" for the many upcoming retirements, he said. "And we're not getting the help we used to from similar-sized utilities, because all these companies have shrunk."

Caron said PURA will accept written comments for the next several months. An evidentiary hearing is scheduled for May 6 at PURA's offices in New Britain.

Written comments can emailed to dpuc.executivesecretary@po.state.ct.us, or mailed to Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, Executive Secretary's Office, 10 Franklin Square, New Britain, CT 06051.

At the conclusion of its investigation, PURA may determine that specific remedies or sanctions are warranted.

j.benson@theday.com

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