Lamont calls for investigation of utilities’ storm response
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont called for an investigation of the state’s two largest electric utility companies Wednesday as hundreds of thousands of residents remained without power a day after Tropical Storm Isaias ripped through the state.
Lamont asked the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to look into Eversource and United Illuminating and find out why they were not prepared for a quicker response, calling their power restoration efforts “wholly inadequate.”
As of Wednesday evening, just over 609,000 Eversource and just under 92,000 UI customers remained without power and Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross said customers should “prepare for multiple days without power.”
The tongue lashing from Lamont came hours after he declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to provide services such as helping to clear roads. The state’s Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday was managing both the response to the storm and to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Lamont also submitted a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a presidential emergency declaration, which would allow Connecticut to request direct federal financial help to supplement state and local government costs for responding to the storm. His administration has also begun the first damage assessments to determine if the state meets the threshold necessary for a presidential major disaster declaration, which could lead to a wider range of federal assistance.
Lamont on Wednesday urged both Eversource and United Illuminating to further ramp up their efforts to restore power, noting they had several days of advance notice of the storm, which brought down trees and power lines across the state.
“Find people wherever you can and get them here,” Lamont said. “Why weren’t they pre-positioned five days ago? We’ll have plenty of time to analyze that later. Right now, I’ve got a house on fire, so to speak, and I need the fire department fully staffed.”
This isn’t the first time the state’s utilities, electric and others, have come under criticism for their preparation for storms and their response to restore service.
In 2012, following Tropical Storm Irene and a devastating ice storm, a panel formed by then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy determined that the size of those storms had “revealed serious structural flaws” in the electric utilities’ “actual on-the-ground response to their customers.”
The panel issued 82 recommendations, including improved worst-case planning and staffing by the state’s utilities and better “hardening” of the state’s infrastructure to withstand natural disasters, noting that work should be done as soon as possible.
Eversource said Tuesday’s storm ranks just behind those two.
The company had 450 line crews out Wednesday and was bringing in crews from out of state in an effort to double that number by Thursday. United Illuminating, with a much smaller service area, said it had 465 personnel involved in the recovery effort.
Craig Hallstrom, Eversource’s president of electrical operations, defended his company’s response.
“We committed back on Friday to crews,” he said. “We know what the past has been so we hired hundreds of crews in anticipation of this.”
The storm has been blamed for at least one death in the state. Police said a 66-year-old Connecticut man was killed by a tree during the height of the storm.
The man, whose name was not immediately released, was driving in Naugatuck at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. When he got out of his car to clear branches from the road, a tree fell and hit him, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
At least seven other people were killed as the storm battered the East Coast on Tuesday with rain and fierce winds. They included Mario Siles, 60, who was inside a construction van that was crushed by a large tree in the Queens borough of New York City.
This story has been corrected to show that the name of the storm is Isaias, not Isaisas.