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Letter: Storms' Aftershocks Still Being Felt

WILTON, Conn. - The following is a letter from Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton and Norwalk, about the Two Storm Commission panel and the resignation of Connecticut Light & Power President Jeff Butler.

The October snowstorm we experienced has left its mark once again. CL&P Chief Operating Officer and President Jeff Butler resigned Thursday.

In addition to announcing the resignation of Jeff Butler, Northeast Utilities made the following announcements concerning CL&P's management:

• The company will undertake a national search for a new president/COO. Until a successor is hired, James A. Muntz, NU president of transmission, will serve as president and COO.

• A new position at CL&P has been created. William J. Quinlan will serve as CL&P senior vice president of emergency preparedness. It will be his job to consolidate and integrate all of CL&P's emergency preparedness.

• Dana Louth, current vice president of asset strategy will now serve as vice president of CL&P infrastructure hardening. This is a new position, and he will be responsible for making the electric system more resistant to weather-related events. This includes vegetation management, structural hardening, electrical hardening and the undergrounding of the system.

This change in management was necessary, but not entirely sufficient. Substantial changes in CL&P’s culture with regards to its customer orientation and its processes and procedures will be necessary to turn this utility around.

The legislature held two public hearings to address failures in response to recent power outages with numerous and helpful proposals brought forward from constituents and residents around the state. Earlier this week, the Two Storm Panel met for the fourth time since the first storm in August.

The utility companies were the first to address the panel. United Illuminating put on an impressive PowerPoint presentation for the committee demonstrating how it has changed its communication systems and how it has solicited suggestions to improve communications.

UI stated that bringing in crews from outside the state to augment their own double its capacity and allowed it to meet the expectations of its customers and improve its management capabilities.

There was spirited exchange between panel members and UI regarding the ownership of utility poles between UI and AT&T.  It was explained that the top 60 percent of the pole is owned by UI and the lower 40 percent is owned by AT&T. It was also revealed that 19 percent of UI's distribution is under ground and 24 percent of their transmission is also underground.

In contrast to the previous presentation, CL&P brought in department heads, who stood up and explained their respective areas of responsibility. They remarked that the combination of outside crews combined with CL&P crews stretched their capabilities to manage the crisis in a seamless fashion.

CL&P maintained that unlike the August Tropical Storm Irene in which it began to hire crews four days in advance of the storm – in the October snowstorm it only began hiring crews one day before the storm's arrival.   

The question remains why did they wait so much longer given their previous experience?

When questioned about ownership of the poles between utility and phone company, CL&P explained it has a 50-50 ownership with AT&T. Additionally, CL&P has 19 percent of its transmission underground and 27 percent of its distribution also underground.

Both UI and CL&P talked about the importance of doing a statewide storm drill.

CL&P offered these lessons learned:

Operations:

• Develop and implement a strategy to accelerate the availability of additional line crews.

• Work with towns to implement a consistent, statewide make-safe road-clearing protocol.

• Develop a comprehensive plan to better manage vegetation adjacent to public ways and utility infrastructure.

• Initiate an industry dialogue on improving mutual aid processes.

• Develop a tagging process to identify downed communications wires to the public.

• Formalize a process to utilize outside local electricians to assist in the completion of service repairs for major restoration events.

Communications:

• Enhance town liaison training and technology

• Leverage town-detailed damage assessments

• Work with state and towns to conduct statewide mock full-scale readiness drills

These lessons learned seem reminiscent of the testimony provided by our constituents and shared in the numerous letters written to the administration concerning these storms. 

Although the Two Storm Panel has held its hearing, more reviews are under way.

In addition to the Two Storm Panel, the following investigations are being conducted:

• Legislative and town level hearings,

• Internal reviews by utilities using outside consultants,

• A third party review by Witt Associates for the executive branch,

• And PURA, The Public Utility Regulatory Authority, is conducting its own investigation.

• The aftershocks of this two-punch massive power outage will reverberate throughout the next legislative session as elected officials start to assemble next year's legislative proposals. 

These proposals are sure to include controversial issues regarding tree removal, putting utility and telephone lines underground, and changes to the length of the school year — and all of this even before winter officially begins. One thing that is certain is that future storms cannot be prevented, but utilities should be better prepared.

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