The Connecticut state Senate on May 5 passed a bill that holds utilities accountable for their performance during emergencies, creating a pilot program to facilitate the installation of microgrids, or localized electricity generation, in such locations as police stations.
Senate Bill 23 would establish a $15m micro-grid and loan pilot program to support local distributed electricity generation at hospitals, police and fire stations and water treatment plants, among other locations, according to a May 5 statement from state Senate President Donald Williams Jr., who helped lead the bill’s passage.
The bill also take steps to facilitate the undergrounding of power and telecommunications lines. The bill would require the state Department of Transportation to notify the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) of any pending road work projects over five miles long or located in a commercial area. PURA would then review the possibility of undergrounding lines at that location and make recommendations to the relevant utility companies, the statement added.
Utility companies must develop and submit plans to PURA by July 1 for service restoration in emergencies and update them every two years afterwards.
The statement also noted that the bill would require PURA to study and then establish minimum performance standards for emergency preparation and response for each electric distribution and gas company in the state. The standards must address, among other things, minimum staffing and equipment levels for outage planning and restoration, targets for recovery and restoration of service based on the proportion of affected customers and communication between and amongst utilities and government officials.
Noncompliance with PURA’s performance standards could result in penalties of up to 2.5% of an electric or gas company’s annual distribution revenue, or about $25m in the case of Northeast Utilities’ (NYSE:NU) Connecticut Light and Power (CL&P), the statement added.
The bill stemmed from two storms that hit Connecticut in 2011, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without electricity and telecommunications service, according to the statement.
“If companies can’t restore power in a timely manner, we’ll hold them financially accountable for their failures,” Williams said in the statement. “This bill takes the lessons learned from recent storm responses and will help ensure Connecticut residents’ health and safety are not needlessly put at risk.”
A December 2011 report by consulting firm Witt Associates found that CL&P was not prepared for an event of the size of the October 2011 Nor’easter, which left nearly 70% of its 1.2 million customers without power. Northeast Utilities’ Chairman, President and CEO Charles Shivery said in a December 2011 statement that the company has already started addressing some of the areas of opportunity identified within that report.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy 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 that storm were to happen again.
In a separate May 5 statement, Malloy said the bill makes sure that the state has taken the best of the recommendations of the Witt report, for instance, and put them into practice.
“While we can’t control what Mother Nature throws our way, enacting tougher standards for utility companies and improving communication and training for state and local officials are two actions that will make sure we’re in a better position to respond once a storm is over,” Malloy said in the statement. “In addition, by making a concerted effort to invest in micro-grids, we are embracing a 21st century solution to an age old problem.”
According to Williams’ statement, the bill now proceeds to the floor of the state House of Representatives.
“The House is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow or Wednesday, and upon passage of the bill and signature by the governor, many of the provisions will go to effect at that time, including but not limited the [PURA] creating performance standards for public utilities and the creation of the microgrid program by our Department of Energy and Environment Protection,” Paul Mounds, Malloy’s senior policy analyst, told TransmissionHub May 7.