By DAVE COLLINS Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Connecticut regulators on Wednesday criticized the state’s two largest electricity distributors and said they are considering fines over what they called the companies’ failures in their preparation and response last August to Tropical Storm Isaias, which left hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the dark for days.
Isaias knocked down scores of trees and utility wires, causing more than 740,000 outages at its peak and a total of more than 1.3 million outages to Eversource and United Illuminating customers. Many customers and local officials expressed anger and frustration at the companies’ power restoration efforts, which took more than a week in some places.
Eversource and United Illuminated have defended their responses to the storm.
The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority on Wednesday issued a unanimous ruling that orders the companies and their affiliates to improve how they respond to major storms. The orders include increasing the number of line workers and other responders who restore power and clear blocked roads, and improving communications with customers.
During a meeting via video conference, the agency also ordered management audits of the two companies by independent firms, and officials said they are now considering fining the companies. How much the fines would be is not yet clear.
The ruling also reduced the companies’ profits. A dollar amount for the profit reductions has not been calculated.
“Unfortunately we find ourselves with much more than a public image problem on our hands,” said Marissa Gillett, chair of the regulatory agency, known as PURA. “Our public utilities, and Eversource in particular, have failed us and continue to fail us by putting shareholders above the rights and goods of the system of Connecticut.”
PURA said United Illuminating, which serves 340,000 customers in southwestern Connecticut, did a better job responding to Isaias than Eversource, which serves nearly 1.3 million customers in the rest of the state.
Regulators said orders they imposed on the two companies after storms in 2011 and 2012 that also caused hundreds of thousands of power outages that took days to restore were not sufficient to improve the utilities’ responses to future storms.
Both companies have the right to appeal PURA’s decision to Superior Court. It was not clear if they would do so. Officials from both companies said they were reviewing the ruling.
Eversource spokesperson Tricia Modifica said the company stands by its response to Isaias, but acknowledged “there are many areas for improvement that we are already addressing.”
“Our thousands of employees showed skill and dedication in restoring power to customers as quickly as possible,” Modifica said in a statement. “Today’s decision deserves careful consideration and review and we are committed to moving forward in the best interest of our customers.”
Ed Crowder, a spokesperson for United Illuminating, said company officials were disappointed in PURA’s ruling, because regulators imposed a penalty despite finding the company generally met performance standards.
“We are mindful of the deficiencies cited by PURA, and are well aware of the difficulties that extended outages cause for our customers,” Crowder said in a statement. “However, we believe the facts clearly support that UI faithfully followed its Emergency Response Plan, and met the overall targets therein.”