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PURA announces investigation into Eversource, United Illuminating response efforts into Tropical Storm Isaias outages

The investigation was called for by Governor Ned Lamont on Wednesday, saying he didn't want any excuses

HARTFORD, Conn — Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) officially announced they will be investigating Eversource and United Illuminating's response to Tropical Storm Isaias. 

Governor Ned Lamont had called on PURA to start an investigation, criticizing Eversource for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars into modernizing its grid, but seeing no results after Isaias.

On Wednesday morning, over 700,000 people were without power between the two electric companies.

"To be blunt, I don’t see much progress made from all the investments we’ve made in terms of hardening, strengthening and modernizing our grid," said Gov. Lamont.

Gov. Lamont had asked PURA a list of requests:

  • Consider whether the utilities were adequately prepared and have the resources they need to handle large weather events
  • Evaluate their response and whether it met regulatory and statutory requirements
  • Determine whether their investments went towards their outage response system
  • Determine whether civil penalties should be applied

Thursday, PURA said they will examine, in detail, measures each company took in preparation for this storm, which caused widespread power outages and lengthy service restoration timelines, as well as reasons behind the clear misstep in response.

"I want to make sure that we put every person we can on the table to make sure we’re taking care of this. I don’t want any excuses. We’re going to do some assessment," added Lamont.

Eversource defended their response Wednesday afternoon. 

"There’s no utility in the country that would staff to handle this type of magnitude. In the last several years, you’ll see our reliability has actually increased. Last year being the best year ever for Connecticut," said Craig Halstrom, president of Eversource Electric Operations.

On Thursday morning, FOX61 spoke with Eversource about their response to the power outages.

Eversource representative, Frank Poirot had said [Eversource] had been restoring power ever since Tuesday, even during the storm when it was safe enough. When the winds had subsided, they were able to work more, and since Tuesday they were able to restore about 250,000 customers.

According to Poirot, hundreds of crews were already in place on Tuesday for the storm. On Wednesday, hundreds more had come down from Canada, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Several hundred more crews will join Eversource today, the company said. 

Poirot said that since Isaias was a regional storm and impacted states where they also have a presence, they had to look outside their region to try and bring additional crews in. COVID-19 was reportedly not an issue in finding crews.

As far as restoration estimate times, Poirot says they can't accurately put a time out that people could plan around until their damage assessment in all 149 towns in their service area is done. In order to get to the damage, sometimes trees blocking the road have to be removed and they work with local road crews to do that.

 “There has been a significant failure in communication here, leaving upward of 800,000 Eversource customers without even a clear way to report an outage from the outset of the storm event," said PURA chairman Marissa P. Gillett said. "There are disturbing reports emerging about the coordination, or lack thereof, between our electric utilities and the communities which they serve. This is simply unacceptable. There will be a full, transparent investigation to follow; however, I want to emphasize that the focus remains for the time being on addressing life safety issues, restoration of service to critical facilities, and restoration of service to all 1,000,000+ Connecticut residents and businesses who lost power before and after the storm.”

PURA said they will continue to work closely with Governor Lamont’s office, the state’s emergency operations center, other state agencies, and the utilities until service restoration is complete.