CCM seeks intervenor status in review of storm response by Eversource;
but also calls for assessment of PURA oversight
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) today (Wednesday, August 12) called on the State to grant CCM intervenor status in the State Public Utility Review Authority (PURA) investigation into Eversource and its response to Tropical Storm Isaias. As importantly, CCM is also calling on the Governor and General Assembly to initiate an independent review of PURA’s regulatory process and determine if PURA needs to be strengthened in its capacity to provide oversight to public utilities.
“PURA’s Chairman Marissa Gillett has made a concerted effort to listen to municipal concerns since her appointment. However, we must question if PURA has the tools necessary and is positioned appropriately to do an adequate job as a utility regulator,” noted Joe DeLong, CCM Executive Director and CEO. “Over the past week, municipal leaders across Connecticut have been rightly critical of the Eversource response to Tropical Storm Isaias.
In documents Eversource shared with the State before the Tropical Storm Isaias, the company planned for an outage of between 125,000 and 380,000 customers. That would require them to bring in 500 to 1,600 line crews in order to restore power within two to six days. The number of power outages the company experienced exceeded 700,000.
In 2011, Eversource was known as Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P), whose parent company, Northeast Utilities, later merged with NSTAR. At the time, Tropical Storm Irene and the late October snowstorm that followed left hundreds of thousands of residents without power, and the PURA determined the CL&P response was deficient because of the company’s failure to obtain adequate assistance in advance of the second storm.
In 2012, regulators issued a decision finding that Connecticut Light & Power should be penalized for its poor performance: “… the Authority concludes that CL&P’s performance in the areas regarding communication to customers, other service providers and municipalities was so deficient as to be less than adequate and suitable and to warrant regulatory sanction. This deficiency also involves its lack of preparation of personnel, failure to support municipal liaisons and to reasonably develop and communicate restoration times to customers.”
PURA called for the financial penalties to be imposed in the company’s next proceeding. The company contested the finding, stretching out the process for another two years until the decision became final near the end of 2015. CL&P was penalized $4.4 million, but was still allowed to increase rates. The company’s 1.2 million customers in 149 Connecticut towns and cities paid that $257 million to improve the reliability of the grid through their monthly bills. Following that increase in late 2014, regulators approved another rate increase in 2018, but only allowed half of what the company wanted.
Eversource sought the increase to pay for smart switches, stronger poles and wires and improved tree-trimming to help restore power more quickly following storms.
In comparison, United Illuminating, the other Connecticut utility which serves 17 towns, had substantial restoration completed by the first weekend.
“Eversource has been widely criticized in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias, as it has been in the past for similar storms,” noted DeLong. “What has made this even more devastating is their severe underestimation — again — of another storm. Yet Eversource still requests and is often granted, frequent price increases to support a mitigation process that has not prevented the same exact poor response time and again.”
What is the bottom line here? The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) is statutorily charged with balancing the public’s right to safe, adequate and reliable utility service at reasonable rates with the provider’s right to a reasonable return on its investment. CCM believes that in addition to a review of Eversource’s failures, policymakers must also review Connecticut’s regulatory framework to be certain that the stated mission of PURA can and will be effectively administered moving forward.