Sen. Formica Raises Questions about Utility Storm Response [Hearst]

November 16, 2017

Article as it appeared in Connecticut Hearst Papers

Executives from the state’s two major electricity providers on Wednesday blamed a three-year drought followed by as much as five inches of rain and high winds on higher-than-expected damage from a double-barreled October storm that knocked out power to about 340,000 Connecticut customers.

Officials from United Illuminating and Eversource told state lawmakers during a hearing Wednesday that, while they had adequate crews in place, higher-than-forecast winds snapped hundreds of utility polls and affected thousands of trees, many outside the current trimming zone developed after Super Storm Sandy five years ago.

The result was more than 201,000 Eversource customers left without power at the storm’s peak and more than 315,000 during the entire two-day event, the executives said. The utility had forecast fewer than 125,000 outages, but the storm’s severity was particularly high in the Southeastern part of the state.

“This was probably the largest storm in the last five years,” said Michael Hayhurst, vice president for electrical system operations for Eversource, the former Northeast Utilities, during an afternoon hearing before the General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee.

“If we solve the tree problem, we mitigate a lot of damage,” said Joseph Thomas, vice president of electrical systems operations for UI, which serves the Bridgeport and New Haven regions. The company estimated between 10,000 and 31,300 outages at the start of that weekend. In all, there were about 25,000 outages in the UI service region.

Thomas said the average restoration time for UI customers was 6.4 hours.

Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, co-chairman of the committee, said she wanted to hear from the power companies because there seemed to be less-than-expected communications between utilities and towns and cities last month.

“It was unusual,” she said. “Even when we were not able to get our wires plugged back in quickly (in past storms), people were sort of kept apprised of what the situation was. We want to take a look at that and I promised everybody this is not a witch hunt. It’s a fact-finding mission.”

Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, co-chairman of the committee, said Sandy spurred changes in the response and awareness of major storms.

“We kind of began the introduction of a new reality,” Formica said. “Since then, we have talked about transforming our utility infrastructure. We have provided opportunities to have tree trimming and obstruction removal. New levels of communication were instituted. What happened? And how did those changes that we undertook four or five years ago move us into where we are today and what can we anticipate in the future if we really get hit?”

More Information

 United Illumination’s challenge from October 29-30 storm

  • 515 downed trees or limbs
  • 322 downed wires
  • 9 broken poles
  • 17 transformers were replaced
    Eversource’s challenge
  • 4,800 trouble spots with outages
  • 564 roads impacted by debris
  • 230 broken poles
  • 400 transformers affected
  • 560 line personnel were dispatched