PURA Chair: Eversource ‘Grossly’ Underestimated Power Outages

Gov. Ned Lamont speaks to reporters outside Eversource headquarters Wednesday afternoon. Photo courtesy of CTNewsJunkie.com

As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, more than 15,000 West Hartford customers remained without power, a number that remained steady throughout the day.

By Christine Stuart, CTNewsJunkie.com

It will take days to restore power to more than 618,000 Eversource customers, and Gov. Ned Lamont and state utility regulators have opened up an investigation into how the company planned for the outage.

Lamont announced plans for the investigation following a meeting with Eversource CEO James Judge, who declined to join him for a press conference following a half-hour briefing at the company’s headquarters.

“I want to hear a lot more urgency,” Lamont said.

State officials are disappointed that yet again, Eversource underestimated the resources it would need to respond to the storm.

Marisa Gillette, chairwoman of the Public Utility Regulatory Authority, said that based on the documents Eversource shared with the state on Monday, the company planned for an outage of between 125,000 and 380,000 customers. That would require them to bring in 500 to 1,600 line crews and restore power within two to six days.

Marisa Gillette, chairwoman of PURA. Photo courtesy of CTNewsJunkie.com

However, more than 600,000 customers lost power, which would have required a much greater response and 1,500 to 2,500 line crews. Gillette said during the briefing Wednesday that they were told the peak number of outages could have been closer to 800,000.

Craig Hallstrom, president of regional electrical operations for Eversource, said the utility currently has about 450 line crews and more than 250 tree crews working to restore power. He said that number would double by tomorrow.

“We know what the past has been, so we hired hundreds of crews in anticipation of this storm,” Hallstrom said.

Hallstrom was unaware of the planning documents the utilities are required to send to regulators following the 2011 storms that left thousands of residents in the dark and cold for more than a week.

Gillette said they now are required to file pre-staging briefs with PURA. She said United Illuminating correctly estimated the number of outages and staged appropriately for the number of outages that occurred.

Responding to questions from reporters about the outages, Hallstrom said “We understand their frustration and we’re going to get this done as soon as possible.”

An estimated 200,000 people have had their power restored, but Lamont said that’s not good enough. He said there will be plenty of time to analyze the response once everyone’s power is turned back on.

Lamont said PURA would investigate the response and determine whether the past 10 years of investments in hardening the infrastructure and trimming trees were the right investments.

Eversouce has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in modernizing the electric grid, “And to be honest, I don’t see much progress made for all the investments that we’ve made in terms of hardening and strengthening and modernizing our grid,” Lamont said.

Hallstrom said the company doesn’t have restoration estimates it can give.

Estimates included in a 2020 docket with state regulators indicated that in many cases, it will take more than five days to remediate outages affecting between 375,000 and 650,000 customers. For outages of 625,000 to 870,000 customers, response would take between 8 to 21 days to fully restore power.

In 2011, following the October Nor’easter, it took Eversource between eight and 14 days to restore power to the more than 950,000 customers who lost power.

An independent report following that storm found that Eversource grossly underestimated the number of outages that would occur before the storm hit.

Instead of preparing for a storm where 500,000 customers would be without power, it prepared for a storm with more than 100,000 customers out of power. One hundred thousand outages is about 10% of the former Connecticut Light and Power’s customer base, and a dramatic underestimation of the more than 800,000 that occurred in the pre-Halloween storm.

Republished with permission from CTNewsJunkie.com, all rights reserved.

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