Monday, November 07, 2011

Lights Still Out For 100k Customers In Connecticut

So much for self imposed deadlines. Connecticut Light and Power (CLP) blew its self-imposed deadline to get 95% of service restored. More than 100,000 customers are still without power across Connecticut, as compared with nearly all customers restored in New York and New Jersey and Massachusetts.

CLP is now saying that service will be restored Wednesday. Anyone want to give odds on that?

There are further rumblings that the utilities may seek rate increases to cover the storm damage costs.

Sorry, but as someone who lost power for a couple of days, was severely inconvenienced by the loss of power, and poor customer service, I doubt anyone will stomach rate increases when there's evidence that the outages were extended due to the utilities own failures.

This includes not reimbursing mutual support companies for their work done in prior storms that led those companies to scale back the number of responding units. Pennywise and pound foolish looks like a theme in Connecticut, and to a lesser extend in other utilities as well.

Putting the bottom line above maintaining a dependable transmission grid has led to cutting back on basic maintenance. Trimming trees once every four to five years is insufficient. This storm once again showed that power lines are extremely vulnerable to wind and storm damage and that tree trimming must be much more aggressive to reduce the chances for outages.

So, while it means that many old growth trees might need to be pruned or removed, the upside is a much more reliable grid. Trees should be part of the landscape, but size-appropriate trees should be put in place. That means that 80-90 foot trees should make way for trees that are 20-30 feet tall and less likely to bring down lines and in places where burying lines makes sense (such as when roads are already going to be torn up for utility/sewer work/repaving projects), then the utilities should also be relocated underground. I think people will support plans that reduce damage going forward, but aren't going to sit still and take rate hikes for the companies own failings.

All of this is little comfort to those who are now without power for eight days. Among the worst hit areas include around Farmington, where more than 50% of customers remain without power.

Gov. Malloy now says that the situation is unacceptable. About time he did so. He's been late on getting ahead of the storm damage wrought by the early nor'easter. While he says that the state is mulling its options, here's a few ideas:

  1. require all utilities to devote far more resources to maintaining, pruning, and other basic services;
  2. impose penalties for outages that are the result of failing to adequately trim trees that lead to outages that last longer than they otherwise should have when the utility knew, or had reason to know, that the storm damage was likely;
  3. impose penalties for delays that last longer than a period of time that cannot be reimbursed through rate hikes; and
  4. clear red tape when it comes to tree trimming programs so that utilities can prune trees as necessary to maintain rights of way.

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