Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) was not prepared for an event of the size of the October Nor’easter, which left nearly 70% of its 1.2 million customers without power, according to a new report by consulting firm Witt Associates.
According to the report, the northeastern United States was hit by the snowstorm Oct. 29, with the wet snow – more than 12 inches in some areas – sticking to the still leaf-laden trees, bringing down limbs, branches and, in some cases, full trees. Fallen trees caused substantial damage to power lines, including some transmission lines, and blocked roads. More than 3 million electric utility customers lost power in the region. North central Connecticut was hit especially hard, the report added. Eight snowstorm-related deaths were reported in Connecticut.
The worst-case scenario in CL&P’s emergency response plan considered outages for more than 100,000 customers, or less than 10% of its total customer base, according to a Dec. 2 statement from Gov. Dannel Malloy. At peak, 809,097 customers, or about two-thirds of CL&P’s customer base – lost power as a result of the snowstorm.
Furthermore, the report found that the Northeast Utilities (NYSE:NU) company did not pre-stage adequate restoration resources in advance of the snowstorm, which delayed the recovery effort in the first days following the storm.
Additionally, CL&P developed an internal stretch goal to restore power to 99% of all customers by Nov. 6 even though the company appeared to know it was more likely it would not hit that goal until Nov. 9, according to the statement. This announcement, as well as a subsequent commitment to restore 99% of all customers in each of 149 municipalities by Nov. 6, unnecessarily contributed to community angst and increased customer frustration and challenges for municipal governments, according to the statement.
According to the report, restoration involved addressing transmission backbone and infrastructure damage as well as distribution lines. While it is unusual to lose transmission lines because trees are cleared to provide wider right-of-ways, in several cases, the snow’s weight brought down full trees onto transmission lines and, in some areas, portions of the system had to be rebuilt.
The report also noted that “public sector emergency response planning at the state and local levels does not adequately focus on actions needed in a significant power outage and assignment of responsibilities in mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery in utility disruption events.”
Malloy has asked the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to review the plans in place at the state and municipal levels, focusing on creating a “master plan” that would detail how the state should work with municipalities and utilities if an event like this were to happen again, the statement added.
The report issued 27 recommendations, including:
- CL&P should improve its planning, procedures, training and pre-staging practices to adequately prepare its crews and resources for the scale of incidents it and its customers potentially face by increasing the scale of planning scenarios.
- CL&P needs to improve its processes for information management, including message vetting, communication and coordination with local governments, and the dissemination of public information to its customers, external partners, stakeholders and the media.
- State and local government planning and preparedness should address major power disruption more comprehensively and inclusively, including coordination with utility providers and procedures for damage assessment teams in power and/or utility outage events.
Malloy said in the statement that the report will help the public utilities and state government understand what went wrong and why, as well as how to fix it. He also said he looks forward to the long-term plan the two storm panel – that is, the working group he created to review the preparedness, response and recovery efforts of the October Nor’easter and Tropical Storm Irene – will ultimately produce.
The working group will meet Dec. 7.
In a separate Dec. 2 statement, Northeast Utilities’ Chairman, President and CEO Charles Shivery said: “There are several areas of opportunity identified within the report and we have already started addressing some of them. We have named a new senior vice president for emergency preparedness who is meeting with town officials to gather feedback as we focus on the scalability of our resources and communications during restoration. We are quickly working to incorporate this feedback into our emergency response plan.”
Lee Olivier, Northeast Utilities’ COO and CL&P’s CEO, will lead the review of the report and the actions to be taken, he said.
“Finally, we appreciate Witt Associates’ recognition that ‘there were successes’ in this, ‘the largest restoration effort in CL&P’s history’ and that ‘we should not overlook the millions of actions that were performed well,’” Shivery said. “We appreciate their specific recognition of the safety and efficiency of our crews and the timely responses of our customer service representatives.”
Witt Associates’ CEO James Lee Witt was appointed by former President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1993.