Lamont declares emergency in Connecticut; nearly half of Eversource customers without power
Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in Connecticut, asked for a presidential declaration of an emergency and called for an investigation of the state's public utility companies in response to the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias, which tore through the state Tuesday, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power.
More than 700,000 homes and businesses remained without power Wednesday evening and utility companies warned that the damage could take days to repair. Eversource and other companies urged residents to prepare for multiple days without electricity as utilities work to assess the damage, caused mostly by fallen trees and branches.
Lamont announced Wednesday that he is requesting the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, or PURA, conduct a thorough investigation of the state's public utility companies, including Eversource.
In a news release, the governor's office said the companies' response to the storm was "wholly inadequate" and "does not meet the obligations for the critical resources they are responsible for providing on behalf of Connecticut residents."
State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, also held a news conference Wednesday with other local legislators in the Essex Town Hall. Joined by state Sens. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, Needleman called on Eversource to explain the widespread outages, in addition to the high rates that residents have been complaining about this month.
Needleman, who co-chairs the state's Energy and Technology Committee, asked how a mild tropical storm caused the most widespread power outages the state has ever seen.
"I don't understand how we could, while paying the most expensive rates in the country for electricity, end up having a power grid that is this vulnerable from a storm that had 60 mph winds," he said. "It makes no sense to me and I'm hoping we can get to the bottom of it."
Osten said she thinks the outages and road closures will be "a multiday event" and said that "some people may be out of power for up to two weeks" — herself included. She called for the company to hire more local employees and said it was "foolish" for Connecticut residents to have to wait for out-of-state Eversource employees "to essentially bail us out."
Osten also commented on the issue of Eversource's automated reporting line being down Tuesday. She said that in order to reach the company, she and other legislators had to call company executives on their cellphones.
A spokesperson for Eversource on Wednesday said that most of the outages were caused by fallen trees.
In response, Needleman said, "Connecticut is a heavily treed state, but that did not happen overnight. There have always been a lot of trees in the state."
Osten said that the trees that came down were trees with leaves, not dead trees. "There's no more room for excuses," she said.
In his announcement Wednesday, Lamont said he wants to know what specific steps utility companies took in the lead up to Tropical Storm Isaias, which had been forecast to impact Connecticut several days prior to making landfall and remained relatively on the track that meteorologists predicted.
"Several years ago, Connecticut experienced large scale outages that took days to recover from, and we were told that the utilities were improving their resources so that they can be prepared for the next time Mother Nature inevitably hits again," Lamont said. "And now here we are, with a wholly inadequate response to another storm."
"I'm asking PURA to begin this investigation so that we can determine whether the companies are meeting their legal obligations and whether any penalties need to be applied," he said. "The people of Connecticut deserve better than the service they are receiving."
As of 6 p.m. Wednesday more than 600,000 Eversource customers were still without power — down from the peak of over 800,000 but nearly half of all of the company's customers.
Only 388 customers in New London were without power, or 2.8% of customers, but surrounding areas were experiencing more severe outages:
- in Old Lyme, 99.3% of customers were without power
- in Montville, 27%
- in Colchester, nearly 97%
- in Ledyard, 30%
- in Waterford, 25%
- in East Lyme, 34%
- in Preston, 86.6%
Mitch Gross, spokesperson for Eversource, said in a phone call Wednesday that the company is seeing "extensive damage across the state and every community has been affected to some degree," with more than 100 utility poles broken and nearly 200 roads blocked statewide.
He said crews were on the ground Wednesday assessing the damage in order to develop a plan for repairs.
"We're asking our customers to prepare for multiple days without power, there is a lot of work that must be done," he said. "In some cases it may be the rebuilding of entire electric delivery systems."
Rebuilding those systems, he said, "is not a quick fix."
When asked which areas seem to have the most damage, Gross replied, "quite honestly, it's everywhere."
Lamont is asking PURA to consider whether utilities were adequately prepared to respond to the storm; to evaluate their response to see if they meet regulatory and statutory requirements; to determine whether resources that were invested into their outage response system were prudent in light of recent system failures and to determine whether civilian penalties should be applied.
PURA is an independent state office responsible for regulating the rates and services of Connecticut's investor-owned electricity, natural gas, water and telecommunication companies, according to the governor's news release.
The governor also announced Wednesday that he had submitted a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a presidential emergency declaration. Approval of such declaration would allow the state to request direct federal assistance to supplement state and local efforts during the storm response. The governor's request also includes a potential 75% federal reimbursement of Category B state and local emergency protective measures.
The state's congressional delegation also urged the White House to issue the emergency declaration.
“Connecticut cities and towns are clearing roads made impassable by falling trees and power lines. Their transfer stations and landfills will be inundated with debris from their residents. As a result, there will be substantial costs to recover from the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias,” the members of the congressional delegation wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump to support the governor's request for a declaration.
Damage across region
Local officials on Wednesday weighed in on the issue of the extensive power outages.
Ledyard Mayor Fred Allyn III said power recovery in town has been extremely slow and that as of about 2 p.m. Wednesday he hadn't heard of any Eversource crews in the town.
The town has had a tree crew and Public Works staff out clearing some of the tree debris that hadn't taken down wires. Additional outages came overnight as loose branches gave and took out wires.
He said Gales Ferry was hit hard, including the area of Long Cove Road, Route 12 and Kings Highway, with a lot of businesses and residents. The Stoddards Wharf Road section of Route 214, especially the section between Avery Hill Road and Route 12, is "a huge mess" because of the number of trees and wires down, and once Eversource arrives in town, full restoration will require cutting power for several hours to residents who do have it so crews can make repairs.
However, Allyn said it was nothing like the October snowstorm of 2011, during which nearly the whole town lost power, and Eversource's ongoing tree trimming work likely prevented more outages this time around. He said the impacts of Hurricane Irene, Superstorm Sandy and now Tropical Storm Isaias, show how prepared — or unprepared — residents, municipalities and utility companies are, and Connecticut is in trouble if it is hit by a Category 1 or 2 hurricane.
Montville Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel said, "I think for a firm that is looking to justify their high delivery and transmission rates, they (Eversource) ought to deliver and transmit some electricity." He said he hadn't seen an Eversource truck since Tuesday night and roads still were blocked.
Preston First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier said as of 8 p.m. Wednesday, 1,956 of 2,252 customers were without power, including a section of Route 2 that includes Town Hall, which was closed Wednesday. Allyn-Gauthier said she has been in contact frequently with the Eversource community relations specialist, but still hasn't been able to get an estimated time for repair crews to arrive in town.
"I think that would be helpful, whether it be three hours, four hours whatever," Allyn-Gauthier said. "She's working to get the answers. Unfortunately, I don’t have an ETA on that. That part is definitely frustrating."
Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule said he has worked closely with Teresa Jackman of Eversource and is sure she is equally as frustrated by the slow restoration and extensive outages.
"Let's be honest," he said. "This could go down as one of the most significant storms and power outages in Connecticut over the last 30 years." He said he hopes more crews will be available in the region after the next storm.
While most residents expect power outages from tropical storms, Brule said his constituents were concerned that they had no one to call and received no information from Eversource. "And, as we all know, bad news is better than no news."
Gross, of Eversource, said he couldn't explain the reason that Eversource's reporting system was down Tuesday. He instructed anyone who needed to report an outage to call (800) 286-2000 and urged residents to be careful when cleaning up debris in their yards.
"Assume any downed line is live and energized," he said. "Stay away and call 911."
Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette contributed to this report.
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