[Greenwich Time] Frantz to Malloy: Hold CL&P’s Feet to the Fire

December 19, 2011

By Neil Vigdor

[Greenwich Time]

Story as it appeared in the Greenwich Time on December 17, 2011

A key lawmaker from lower Fairfield County is calling on Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to assert his authority over Connecticut Light & Power Co. by forcing the beleaguered utility to make public all arrangements it has with out-of-state mutual aid crews in preparation for the winter storm season.

State Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-36th District, also wants the state to empower, for lack of a better word, local electricians to shut down sections of the electric grid at the street or neighborhood level so tree crews and first responders can do their jobs without delay during future storms.

In his second term representing all of Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan, Frantz sent a letter to Malloy Nov. 14 asking the first-term governor to issue an executive order implementing a series of recommendations related to power restoration efforts in the state.

The Republican is additionally recommending that CL&P supply all out-of-state mutual aid crews with tracking devices to get a better sense of where they are positioned and share specific storm-response plans with the municipalities, including the number of crews needed to restore power.

“State government should not tell them how to run their business, but they should be able to impose certain conditions that allow them to achieve reasonable service standards if they can’t do it themselves,” Frantz told Greenwich Time.

Frantz said Wednesday that he had yet to receive a response from Malloy, whose administration formed a special working group to evaluate the response to Tropical Storm Irene and the Oct. 29 nor’easter, both of which incapacitated the state and left hundreds of thousands of residents in the dark for about a week each time. The working group held its final hearing Wednesday in Hartford.

“The governor does not have to respond to me to make me happy and others happy. He just needs to do the right thing,” Frantz said. “I think the suggestions are so sensible that they should be adopted right away.”

Former state Sen. Andrew McDonald of Stamford, now the general counsel to Malloy, said that the governor does not have the authority to act unilaterally as Frantz’s letter requested.

“He can’t order private parties to do things,” McDonald said. “That would require legislation. He can order executive branch agencies to carry out specific tasks, but the items that Senator Frantz is talking about can only be implemented through legislative action.”

The General Assembly doesn’t convene until February, however.

“Ideally you’d go through the legislative process to make this a permanent law down the road,” Frantz said. “We don’t even go into legislative session until we’re halfway through winter.”

In response to the last two tropical storms, Malloy declared a state of emergency in Connecticut, granting the governor expanded powers. Even so, McDonald said there are limitations to the power of the executive branch.

“When the governor issues a declaration of civil preparedness emergency, he does have some extraordinary powers, but those powers only exist during the immediate time surrounding the emergency,” McDonald said. “That period has expired and the emergency declaration is no longer in place. Now having said that, whether there’s an emergency in place or not, the governor does have the ability to issue executive orders. However, executive orders are issued to control the operations of the executive branch of government.”

McDonald said he had not been familiar with Frantz’s letter until it was brought to his attention by the newspaper. He noted that it was sent to 200 Capitol Ave. in Hartford rather than 210 Capitol Ave., the correct address for the capitol.

“I’m comfortable that these proposals and many others will be the focus of extensive hearings during the next legislative session,” McDonald said.

McDonald expects that the working group will issue its final report shortly.

“Once we receive that report the governor will be proposing significant changes to state statutes as part of his legislative package, which will be submitted in February to the General Assembly,” McDonald said.

Mitch Gross, a spokesman for CL&P, said that some of the measures advocated by Frantz are already in place, while others are currently under consideration.

“Everything’s on the table,” Gross said.

CL&P insisted that it has furnished cities and towns with written contingency plans for restoring power.

“There is a written plan that every town has seen. I’ve seen Mr. (Peter) Tesei himself reading the document,” Gross said, referring to the first selectman of Frantz’s hometown of Greenwich.

“There is a document in place. It has existed for years and the town officials are aware of it and they should be familiar with it.”

Amid public fury over the utility’s response to the October nor’easter, a freak snowstorm that knocked out power to 700,000 customers in Connecticut, more than any other state in the region, CL&P’s Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Butler resigned last month.

“We have to be better. We know that,” Gross said.

Critics of CL&P targeted some of their toughest scrutiny on whether the utility had hired enough out-of-state crews to help fix damaged power lines and equipment under mutual aid agreements.

CL&P’s parent initially revealed that its company policy was not to pay out-of-state crews to be on standby, only to state otherwise when the utility came under fire from residents and politicians.

Compounding the problem were media reports that mutual aid contractors used during Tropical Storm Irene in late August still hadn’t gotten paid for their work as of early November.

Gross said that the list of mutual aid contractors is being finalized as part of the current review process undertaken by the state and will be furnished to the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

“We typically file with state regulators and that becomes public record,” Gross said.

Frantz developed his list of recommendations based on his own observations during recent storms that have ravaged the state.

“If you hang out enough in these emergency command centers it becomes crystal clear what the utilities need to do,” Frantz said.

One flaw that Frantz said has become evident is that CL&P doesn’t always have a grasp on where out-of-state crews are positioned, hampering its efforts to address problem areas and communicate accurate information to cities and towns.

CL&P should hand out GPS transponder units for tracking purposes when mutual aid crews enter the state, perhaps using weigh stations in border communities such as Greenwich and Danbury, he said.

“The idea is to make sure that CL&P operations managers know exactly where their assets are and where they’ve been,” Frantz said.

Frantz is recommending that the positioning of crews be made available to the public, but with a time delay to protect utility workers. He doesn’t think it would be a deterrent to mutual aid workers coming to Connecticut.

“I don’t think they’d have any trouble with that,” Frantz said. “I’ve had a lot of contact with these out-of-state crews. They’re wonderful people. They have a tremendous work ethic.”

Gross said the prospect of using tracking equipment is being explored.

“That has certainly been under consideration,” he said.

Frantz also expressed frustration over the amount of time it takes CL&P to ensure that the power is safely turned off for tree crews and others to work on individual streets. He proposed delegating these duties to licensed electricians in each city and town.

“CL&P might take two or three days to get down there,” Frantz said.

During the past few major storms, CL&P said it has enlisted licensed electricians in the municipalities to help repair service lines connecting homes and businesses to the power grid. It couldn’t quantify the exact number, but said dozens of electricians had been used.

“We are examining expanding their duties,” Gross said.