Monday, January 09, 2012

Connecticut Panel Hands Down Recommendations Over Electric Utility Reliability

Once you attach a price tag to any project, all of a sudden supporters suddenly balk at making the necessary changes.

Connecticut residents suffered horrendously at the hands of Connecticut Light and Power during the double whammy of Hurricane Irene/Lee and then the freak October snowstorm. Millions of people were without power for days on end, and the utility was ill-prepared to deal with the snowstorm even after seeing how badly it responded during the hurricanes.

A panel set up by Governor Malloy has issued numerous recommendations, but it would call on rates to go up 10% in order to increase reliability by 30-40%.
The strongest recommendation was one that came from Connecticut Light & Power on the last day of the hearings – a proposed $2.2 billion plan to boost reliability.

Panel co-chair Joe McGee says the utility claims the plan would boost resiliency by more than a third, but will customers be willing to pay more for this?

“Their proposal was a 10 percent increase in your monthly bill for a 30 to 40 percent increase in reliability of the system,” said McGee.

In all, 82 recommendations were passed onto the governor for his consideration.
One of the reasons that the utility did so poorly had nothing to do with rates, but everything to do with not getting regional assistance plans in place to bring in supporting utilities from outside the region in a timely basis and then doing a poor job coordinating those efforts. Throw poor communications on top of everything else, and what you get is a mismanaged utility that can't do its basic job - delivering reliable power to its customers.

It can claim that those rate increases will improve reliability, but one has to question how other utilities in the state were able to do a far better job without similar rate increases (see PSE&G and even Con Ed and LIPA - and Con Ed and LIPA aren't exactly paragons of virtue when it comes to power reliability and dealing with outages). CPL skimped on tree trimming and other maintenance issues, and that had a large part to do with just how badly it handled the crisis.

So, what else does the panel recommend and find? Well, it realizes that the state has been hit by a string of severe storms, and that climate change may be involved (and might lead to even more severe weather events).

The panel called on the state to develop new engineering standards that will better protect the built environment from the effects of extreme weather and those standards should then be incorporated into the State’s Building Code within six months of development.

The panel also noted that there's a toxic work relationship between the utilities and their workforce, and that the utilities must prepare a worst-case scenario based on a Cat 3 hurricane (which is stronger than what the state experienced but well above the previously planned worst-case scenario that posited only 100,000 outages statewide; there were 1 million outages during the two weather events in 2011).

Tree trimming and infrastructure hardening is one of the priorities that must be addressed, but it shouldn't take a 10% increase in rates to accomplish.

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