Connecticut finds utilities performed in ‘generally acceptable manner’ regarding Superstorm Sandy

Connecticut state regulators, in a July 30 draft decision, found that, while improvements are needed in certain areas, Connecticut Light and Power (CL&P) and United Illuminating (UI), among other companies, performed “in a generally acceptable manner” pertaining to Superstorm Sandy, which hit Connecticut and the East Coast in October 2012.

The storm caused “epic devastation,” leaving 10 million electric customers from Maryland to Maine without power, the Connecticut Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) said. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy declared a state of emergency on Oct. 27, 2012, and President Barack Obama declared Connecticut a major disaster area on Oct. 30.

According to PURA, at the storm’s peak, 496,769 CL&P customers, or about 41%, were without power, and the company experienced 13 sustained transmission line outages, all of which occurred on the 115-kV system.

UI, meanwhile, had more than 160,000 customers, or about 50% of the total, without service at the storm’s peak. There were 23 transmission line disturbances that affected UI and of those, 15 were either UI-owned or jointly owned transmission lines, but did not result in loss of UI load. The other eight are owned by Northeast Utilities (NYSE:NU), five of which resulted in loss of UI load, PURA added. Also, five UI substations were de-energized as a result of the storm, causing some loss of load.

“The statewide nature of Storm Sandy with extensive commercial power outages, inland and coastal flooding, [and] extensive tree damage resulted in travel restrictions and road closures constrained the companies’ resource deployment and restoration effort,” PURA said. “Electric utility infrastructure was extensively damaged due to the impact of Storm Sandy, necessitating lengthy repair and restoration activities on the part of the EDCs. The EDCs prepared very effectively for Storm Sandy, especially through procuring and pre-positioning supplemental lineworkers prior to the storm.”

PURA finds progress made, some improvements needed

Of CL&P, PURA noted that before Sandy, CL&P executives had undergone media training and during Sandy, additional professional media personnel and spokespersons were placed throughout the company’s public information office to execute a coordinated approach to media communications.

PURA said it “concludes that CL&P has made significant progress in the area of media relations.”

The company has also implemented a comprehensive training program for town liaisons, and since 2011, has introduced technology that provides town liaisons with more real-time information including crew location.

Furthermore, CL&P is in the early stages of exploring the ability for the public to report an outage via mobile text, as well as a process to monitor social media to allow real-time damage reports from customers.

PURA added that it found “that CL&P was able to effectively communicate to and with its customers, municipal officials and governmental officials.”

Also, CL&P took certain steps ahead of the storm, including securing external line and tree contractors, placing 100% of its line personnel on-call and confirming support staff storm assignments.

The draft decision added, “[PURA] finds that CL&P exercised considerable effort in acquiring resources to prepare for and to respond to Storm Sandy.”

PURA also noted that CL&P began the restoration process immediately following Sandy’s landfall as conditions allowed crews to work according to safety rules, adding that CL&P “executed the restoration process in an effective manner.”

On UI, PURA said that the company has strengthened its town liaison program to ensure that liaisons are equipped to effectively interface with the towns and municipalities.

Steps include meeting with town representatives at least on an annual basis and participating in statewide storm exercises.

UI is also in the process of introducing a third party communications vendor to alleviate busy signals and improve responsiveness even further for future storm events. PURA added that it “is encouraged by UI’s decision to implement the third party vendor but will direct UI to report on its status and the status of the services that will be supplied to UI.”

The company “was able to effectively communicate to and with its customers, municipal officials and governmental officials,” PURA said.

PURA also said that it finds that UI’s implementation of its emergency preparedness plan was appropriate during the storm, adding that preparation “began well before the storm reached land.”

UI expanded its field line worker base from 408 to 1,419 by calling in available utility and contractor crews from other states including Florida and Michigan. While UI was able to obtain these crews, there were difficulties with the mutual assistance process, PURA added, noting that many of the mid-Atlantic and New England utilities planned for the worse case, limiting the availability of electric distribution company mutual assistance crews.

Among other things, PURA ordered CL&P and UI to provide by March 31, 2014, a report on the feasibility of an emergency generator operational readiness management program. The report is to identify whether electric distribution company administration of an emergency generator operational readiness program at critical times is feasible.

Also, by Nov. 1, UI is to report to PURA on the status of its third party communications vendor and the services provided by it to help improve UI’s call center performance during storm events.

Additionally, CL&P and UI are to continue to work with federal, state and local officials to identify and prioritize critical facilities.

Responses to draft decision by UI, CL&P 

A spokesperson for UI told TransmissionHub on Aug. 2 that overall, the decision demonstrates that the company has made continual enhancements in its restoration process and has been able to manage challenging and unique weather events.

“As evidenced by the recent three national [Edison Electric Institute (EEI)] awards we’ve received, we continue to execute on our plans for the benefit of our customers and high quality service,” he said.

A CL&P spokesperson told TransmissionHub on Aug. 2 that the company’s restoration following Sandy was markedly improved from past storms.

“After we completed restoration in Connecticut, which required rebuilding portions of our distribution system, several of our employees went to neighboring New York and New Jersey to assist with restoration efforts there,” the spokesperson said.

The company received national honors for its response to the storm, she said, noting that CL&P received the Emergency Recovery Award from EEI, which recognizes utility companies for extraordinary efforts made to restore electrical service following severe weather conditions or natural events.

“Although this is just a draft decision, we’re encouraged that PURA has recognized our efforts to improve storm response and continue to review the recommendations included in the draft decision,” the spokesperson said.

The final decision is expected later this month.

“It’s our never-ending goal to improve our response to Mother Nature’s wrath,” she added. “We conducted an extensive review of our emergency preparedness and response following Sandy and have learned a lot that is helping us prepare for future storms.”

CL&P is in the process of upgrading its information technology systems to make its storm response more efficient. Also, the company has a new tool for assessing damage to the electric system, along with a centralized resource tracking system.

“It’s always important to point out that trees are the number one cause of outages and this year alone, we’re investing tens of millions of dollars on our vegetation management program,” she said.

CL&P is a subsidiary of Northeast Utilities. UIL Holdings (NYSE:UIL) is the parent company of UI.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3112 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.