‘Insulting Slow Burn’ Prompts Officials To Give A Voice To Eversource Ratepayers
Reflecting what they said were the voices of Eversource ratepayers left in the dark and suffering in extreme heat without electricity — some for nearly nine days — state and local officials joined together on the steps of Edmond Town Hall Wednesday morning, August 12, calling for an apology, for humility, and for the utility to ensure that the situation resulting from storm Isaias never happens again.
Saying ratepayers suffering without power were experiencing an “insulting slow burn,” State Senator Tony Hwang was joined by First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and State Rep Mitch Bolinsky. The state rep was quick to publicly thank Governor Ned Lamont for stepping in and committing 1,000 restoration crews after visiting the community August 7 and expressing in an August 10 call to the lawmaker that he was unaware how bad it actually was for Newtown residents.
Bolinsky, Rosenthal, and Hwang also joined in recognizing local responders, emergency management, police, public works crews, frontline restoration workers, and even a low-level Eversource liaison who the first selectman said was lacking information or, worse, was inadvertently sharing misinformation that was being passed down from the utility.
Bolinsky and Hwang had high praise for Rosenthal, with the senator suggesting Eversource could “take a lesson” from the first selectman’s responsiveness and “countless hours” he has spent since the storm responding to residents in trouble, while monitoring the utility’s response — to the extent he was able.
Bolinsky also thanked public work crews who were on the ground clearing “make safe” paths for emergency vehicles hours after the storm passed, saying, “The municipal response has been responsible, caring, what everyone in Newtown expects — caring, kindness, neighbor helping neighbor.”
Hwang reiterated numerous times during the 40-minute press conference that Eversouce, with more than 9,400 Newtown customers in the dark as Isaias moved out late Tuesday, August 4, should be judged by its actions and not by its words.
At least daily since the storm’s departure, Eversource has issued press advisories asserting how hard its staff and contractors have been working to respond to what early on was being described as a storm of massively damaging proportions.
Its latest, issued around 3 pm, August 11, offered in part, “Isaias caused damage at more than 20,000 locations across the state, compared to 16,101 from Tropical Storm Irene and 16,460 for Superstorm Sandy. Peak outages from Isaias — which occurred on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 at 3:30 pm — impacted 632,632 customers; peak outages during Irene and Sandy were 671,000 and more than 496,000 respectively.
Picking up on Bolinsky’s comment about the inordinate restoration response after the Lamont visit, Rosenthal said it should not have taken almost a week for Eversource to reconnect a significant number of homes and businesses that were dark until the final 48 hours ahead of a self-imposed full restoration deadline of noon August 11 — which the first selectman said Eversource failed to meet.
The first selectman said by 10 am, Wednesday, the utility stated it had about two dozen customers left to restore in town, although Rosenthal contended it could still be upward of 200.
PURA Hearing Announced
The lawmakers also took the opportunity to announce a planned regulatory hearing involving Eversource scheduled for August 24.
Bolinsky released a statement moments before the press conference, which read, “As you know, at the insistence of my office and legislative colleagues in all four caucuses, the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) temporarily suspended Eversource’s recent rate increase while it conducts a full review, the purpose of which is to ensure that Eversource is not over-collecting revenues in the short term at the expense of ratepayers.”
“Despite supposedly applying past electric rate increases to improving manpower, line-hardening, and tree trimming to ensure week-long electric outages did not happen after the storms of 2011 and 2012, how could this happen again and actually be worse than past experiences?” the release continued.
The PURA Zoom hearing on August 24 will begin at 10 am, and Bolinsky encouraged Eversource customers “to share your thoughts and suggestions, as well as attend this meeting.”
“My colleague, Danbury Representative David Arconti is a co-chair of the Energy & Technology Committee and has expressly requested ... Eversource CEO, Jim Joyce be on hand to answer for his company’s performance,” Bolinsky added.
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During the press conference, Hwang mentioned that Newtown would be joining in a legal brief that was being readied on behalf of numerous municipalities that could be forwarded to PURA as part of its ongoing investigation of the utility’s response that Rosenthal classified as “glacial,” and Bolinsky more bluntly referred to as bordering on “criminal.”
Review Authority’s Oversight
Hours earlier, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) requested the State to grant CCM intervenor status in the PURA investigation into Eversource and its response to Tropical Storm Isaias. As importantly, CCM also called on the governor and the 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 Isaias hit, the company planned for an outage of between 125,000 and 380,000 customers. That would have required 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.
Near the conclusion of the Newtown press conference, Senator Hwang responded to a question about revoking Eversource’s license to operate in Connecticut. The senator responded saying “everything should be on the table.”
Hwang demanded the utility issue an apology and exhibit some humility for what Newtown and Eversource’s network of customers statewide were forced to endure post-Isaiah.
“Humility could go a long way toward soothing the discomfort of people,” Hwang said.
The senator observed that under its ownership, Eversource not only controls significant state electrical energy resources, but natural gas and water utilities as well. Referring to the company as an “oligarchy” with its top five executives earning more than $40 million this year, Hwang said Eversource has grown so huge that its leaders are only interested in “servicing Wall Street, not Main Street.”