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CL&P To Answer Questions About Its Handling of Communication Post-Irene

Utility is under fire for the pace of power restoration around the state

Call it CSI: Utilities.

Lawmakers across the state are clamoring for a post-mortem of how Connecticut Light & Power handled its communications during and after Tropical Storm Irene.

“It’s time to do the autopsy,” state Rep. John Shaban, a Republican representing Easton, Redding and Weston in the 135th House District, said. “I think there was a lot of miscommunication.”

In the end most state legislators agree, it’s about “expectation management.” And so people can expect public hearings into what happened with CL&P response after Tropical Storm Irene, not just from getting power up but in its communication strategy. Lawmakers won’t get any argument from CL&P. Indeed, CL&P President and CEO Jeff Butler has said he welcomes an investigation.

“We understand that, especially in today's world, being without power is frustrating, and our local officials and customers not having timely access to the information increases that frustration,” Butler said in a statement.

Mitch Gross, a spokesman for CL&P, said that well before the storm hit, customers were told that power could be out for a week or more in some areas. However, he said: Tthe utility looks forward to actively participating in the upcoming hearing. We will have a constructive discussion with all parties. Everybody wants the same thing.” 

State Rep. Patricia Widlitz, a Democrat representing towns in the 98th House District, including Guilford, wants hearings, too.

 “I think that was the greatest problem,” Widlitz said. “People were prepared for two or three days. People were very agitated because they didn’t know what to expect.”

Democratic state Sen. Andrew Maynard, who represents several towns in the 18th Senate District including Stonington and Groton, and state Rep. Diana Urban, who represents North Stonington in the 43rd House District said they welcome an inquiry into CL&P.

They have much in common with colleagues on the other side of the aisle and further to the west.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Republican representing Norwalk and Wilton in the 143rd Senate District, and state Sen. Toni Boucher — a Republican representing Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton in the 26th Senate District, also want a hearing.

Even before power was restored the two co-signed a letter to Butler. Communication was one of many topics addressed.

 “Communication with CL&P customers has been irregular, inconsistent, inaccurate, and in many cases nonexistent, making the situation far more distressing for residents than it would otherwise have been,” according to the letter. “The overall lack of information on work plans and status reports has made people feel very anxious and -- in the case of many older, ill, or disabled individuals – desperate. It is unacceptable that people already experiencing physical distress should be left in a communication vacuum.

"If they knew less populated towns were to be last then say so at the forefront. Then people are equipped with knowledge and can plan. It’s the uncertainty that’s difficult."

In Wilton, Tim and Grace Donovan didn’t get power until eight days after the storm. Their story illustrates the frustration people had with CL&P regarding not so much power restoration as the power to communicate.

In one message to CL&P, Tim Donovan explained how his whole street, Signal Hill, had power except for his house.

“They TOOK DOWN the TRANSFORMER about 4 days ago when they fixed the pole wires and HAVE NOT REPLACED IT. Feel like we have been forgotten because the rest of the houses on street have power. Have called and the reps have no information other than what I've been telling them. Please respond!!!,” Donovan posted on Facebook page.

In CL&P's response, they told Donovan he was right to report his situation to customer service and that he should check the connection to his meter. 

“If you have already checked this, then be assured we are aware of your situation and will respond as soon as we can,” according to CL&P's posted response.

Widlitz said many of her constituents along the shore felt like the Donovans – even though they live several towns away. They wanted up to date and accurate information so they could plan.

As Vice-Chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee, state Rep. Lonnie Reed said, “managing expectations is huge.”

“I’m very concerned about grandstanding. But we do need to do an autopsy about how it was managed and how we can do it better,” said Reed, a Democrat representing several towns in the 102nd House District, including Branford.

jjj mmm September 12, 2011 at 07:01 PM
CL&P told us before the storm what to expect. We all had plenty of time to prepare. We did and got through 8 days of no power with no problems. Those complaining sound like a bunch of whining spoiled brats. This was a big storm covering a very large geographic area. I cant wait to hear the whining when we get a real huricane here. CL&P did an outstanding job. To the elected officials.."Go back to sleep"
Abby Cobb September 13, 2011 at 02:49 AM
Our power was out for a week as well. A tree had fallen and ripped the lines off our house and snap. We had an electrician run the wires back up our house and left everything for CL
Abby Cobb September 13, 2011 at 02:52 AM
(cont'd) and left everything for CL
Abby Cobb September 13, 2011 at 02:55 AM
(cont'd) CLP to repair. At 3:30am Saturday morning, I watched as they clipped the lines running to our house and drive away. The next morning, the whole neighborhood had power restored and our lines were coiled by the pole on the ground. I called CLP and they told us the lineman had marked the entire neighborhood as having power, including us. They thanked me for the call and said our house was marked as receiving power and if I hadn't called no one would know they never fixed them. I think this gives us some good reasons why localized power companies would be a better choice in communities that are stuck at the bottom of the priority list, like Montville.

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