Evaluating Eversource's storm response is a reasonable step

When strong winds blew across the state Oct. 29, most southeastern Connecticut residents likely viewed the storm as little more than a temporary inconvenience. We on the shoreline, along with our northern neighbors just removed from the water, are used to seeing bending and waving trees buffeted by high gusts and driving rains.

The storm’s 60-plus mph winds were considerably less severe than many other storms that have pummeled the region in recent years, including Irene and Sandy. So when thousands remained in the dark when Halloween dawned and pockets of outages persisted 96 hours after the storm passed, some of the region’s lawmakers were justified in losing patience with the electric utility Eversource.

State Sen. Cathy Osten of Sprague and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk on Nov. 9 called for a public forum on the utility’s storm response. The General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee responded by conducting an informational meeting in Hartford Wednesday.

In its defense, the utility points to the considerable and widespread damage caused to the electric system by the storm, which brought down trees that were more vulnerable because of softened ground soaked by a prior storm. Further, utility officials maintain that Eversource acted quickly to correct communications problems that had some Connecticut customers receiving updates for New Hampshire towns and vice versa.

We agree with Osten and Duff, however, that a review is in order. There may well be mitigating circumstances that thwarted quicker power restoration following this particular storm. Detailing and clarifying such information is the purpose of a review process. This should be a mission of fact-finding — with a goal of improved preparedness and response — not one of blame and scapegoating.

Still, the sheer number of customer complaints made following the storm leads to skepticism concerning Eversource’s claims that its response was reasonable. Nearly 80 percent of power in Ledyard was knocked out by the storm and Mayor Fred Allyn reported seeing no Eversource crews in town nearly 24 hours later.

Many customers reported encountering hours of delays or the inability to talk to a live person when they tried to report outages or sought power restoration updates. They were particularly frustrated when the utility’s automated system told them no outages had been reported in their neighborhoods even as they sat in the dark, or when they received updates for out-of-state areas instead of their own neighborhoods.

On the other hand, customers who reportedly were bombarding their elected officials with complaints, even as the winds continued to howl, were overreacting and should have exercised more patience in light of the broad extent of damage the storm caused.

These complaints may have been fueled, at least in part, by the realization that more frequent and more powerful storms are part of the new weather reality. We must have a utility infrastructure that can better withstand these storms. We also must have utilities ready and able to quickly and efficiently respond to the storms.

“We want to know if we’re really ready to deal with the reality of weather these days,” said state Rep. Lonnie Reed of Branford, who is co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee.

This is an eminently reasonable request, especially when the utility has filed a rate hike request of $336.8 million with state regulators and strove to justify that request, in part, by saying it’s needed to better gird the electric system against future storms.

The customers who may be footing this bill deserve to understand the full scope of what may be needed in the future.

They have a right, also, to understand the full scope of the late-October storm’s destruction and of Eversource’s response.

 

 

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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