Connecticut might make utilities pay customers for outages
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Legislation being drafted in Connecticut would force utility companies to pay consumers for spoiled food and lost medicine following lengthy power outages.
The move comes after more than 1 million state homes and businesses were left in the dark for days earlier this month following Tropical Storm Isaias.
The Democrat and Republican leaders of the Legislature’s Energy & Technology Committee said they are working on a bipartisan package that would hold Eversource and United Illuminating responsible for poor planning and an inadequate storm response.
“We are working to understand how it’s possible after rate increase after rate increase to prepare for storms, how such a colossal failure on the part of UI and Eversource occurred,” said state Sen. Norm Needleman, of Essex, a Democrat and the Senate chair of the committee.
The lawmakers said they hoped to address customer reimbursement in a special legislative session in September.
The package would include forcing the companies to pay $100 a day to residential customers with critical needs who lose power and to reimburse all ratepayers up to $500 for food and medicine lost as the result of a power outage of more than two days.
They plan to address larger issues in next year’s regular session, such as requiring that future power lines be placed underground and perhaps moving toward allowing more regulation or competition in the industry.
An informational hearing in front of the committee has been scheduled for Aug. 27.
“We are open to a robust dialogue about how we can improve storm readiness and response, while mitigating the impact of major storms on customers,” Ed Crowder, a UI spokesman said in an email.
The Aug. 4 storm and its high winds brought down trees across the state. At its peak, more than 1 million homes and businesses in Connecticut lost power, including more than 800,000 customers of Eversource, the state’s largest electric utility.
But the lawmakers criticized the utilities for failing to follow plans put in place after two major storms in 2011 that were supposed to mitigate power-outage events. Those included pre-positioning line crews and having utility companies work with town liaisons to best direct restoration efforts.
The state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority already has opened an investigation into the storm response.
It has a public hearing scheduled for Aug. 24 that will focus on whether recent rate hikes were justified, with the storm as a backdrop.
Eversource argues it prepared adequately for the storm based on weather forecasts and adjusted when the storm changed its path. The company said Monday that it appreciates the frustration of its customers, but defended its response as being 33% faster than during Hurricane Irene in 2011 and storm Sandy in 2012.
“That said, we expect that PURA will conduct a thorough and tireless review of all aspects of the storm and that we will be called upon to provide information on our preparation, response and lessons learned,” said Tricia Taskey Modifica, a company spokeswoman.