August and October of last year delivered to remarkable storms toConnecticut. Hurricane Irene, which became a Tropical Storm just as it struck land, and a freak autumn Nor’easter which brought large amounts of snow and ice before Halloween. In each storm event, in addition to remarkable damage, areas ofNewtownandMonroewere without power for roughly two weeks. More than 1 million state residents were without power after Irene, and roughly 1.4 million were without power after the October storm which created the worst power outage in state history.
In the aftermath of these storms State Representative DebraLee Hovey (R-112), voted in the House to pass needed changes that would assure the state would be far better prepared in the event of such storm events in the future. That effort culminated with the passage of significant measures today which lay the framework for better preparation.
“There is no question that through these two storms we learned a great deal about the planning and abilities of the utilities and government emergency response,” said Hovey. “While I was highly critical of the utility companies during the crisis, the responsibility also lies with the communities, and we all have a role.”
The bill requires state regulators with the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to establish new performance standards for telecommunications, and electric and gas utilities with regards to emergency preparations and the restoration of service when an emergency reaches the threshold of resulting in 10% or greater of the utility’s customer base without service for 48 hours or longer.
Additionally, regulators will be expected to review standards for minimum staffing levels for each of the utility companies based on how many customers they have and implement a communications plan between the utilities and their customers.
Hovey said that falling trees and downed limbs were responsible for most of the power outages in both storm events last year. Because of this, regulators will now be reviewing and evaluating each utility company’s plans for tree removal and trimming, ensuring that better steps are taken to make certain that downed trees cause far fewer outages in future storm events.
In addition, regulators will also report on utility call center operations, and how the utilities notify state and local officials to coordinate needed responses. PURA must submit its report identifying these new standards by November 1st of this year. Should PURA reach the conclusion that proper standards are not being met in any of these areas, civil penalties can be levied against distribution companies in an amount that cannot exceed 2.5% of that company’s distribution revenue.
Most of the contents of this legislation were derived from the report of the task force which was put together by Governor Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly.
Hovey noted that congregate housing like senior housing need to have specified plans for such emergencies as senior populations at such locations were particularly at risk during the storm events. She said she planned to introduce legislation in the future which will require such facilities to all have generators in their community buildings as well as plans to account for all residents during such a critical power loss.
“Utilities need to have plans in place to identify areas of priority in restoring service,” said Rep. Hovey. “They also need to have better communication with municipalities and be certain they have an understanding of how transmission lines are configured so reasonably accurate estimates can be given on power restoration timetables.”
Both chambers of the legislature have approved this measure and it is now on its way to Governor Malloy for his signature.