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Regional News

Regulators Open Investigation Into Eversource As Hundreds Of Thousands Remain Without Power

As Connecticut’s utilities struggle to address a million power outages across the state, there’s no official assessment yet as to when they might be able to restore electricity to most homes. And now state regulators have announced an investigation into whether the state’s largest power company, Eversource, underestimated the threat posed by Tropical Storm Isaias.

Isaias ripped through the state Tuesday with wind speeds gusting to 70 mph, felling trees and bringing down power lines in almost every town. 

The damage was spread throughout the state from Thompson down to Greenwich, but the southwest corner was hit the hardest.

“Instead of limbs coming down on wires it’s more entire trees coming down on multiple sections of wire,” said Eversource spokesman Frank Poirot early Wednesday. “So the damage down there is serious. In addition to restoring our electric customers, right now the focus is on getting those roads open so first responders are able to respond to any emergencies.”

Crews worked through the night, restoring about 100,000 homes, and as dawn broke, utilities began an aerial assessment of the damage in an attempt to estimate just how long full restoration might take.

“The impact from this storm, in terms of power outages, is greater than Superstorm Sandy,” said Michael Hayhurst, Eversource’s vice president of electric operations in Connecticut. “The fierce winds with this storm caused widespread power outages and historic damage, affecting customers in all of the 149 communities we serve in Connecticut.”

But by 4 p.m., Gov. Ned Lamont let it be known he wasn’t satisfied with the progress. He met with Eversource executives and emerged from the company’s Berlin headquarters to address reporters.

“I want them to feel the sense of urgency that we feel when there’s an outage,” he said. “I want to make sure we put every person on the table to make sure we’re taking care of this. I don’t want any excuses -- we’re going to do some assessment, have to figure things out over the next few days.”

He called the response to the storm wholly inadequate.

“To be blunt, I don’t see much progress made for all the investments we made in terms of hardening, strengthening and modernizing our grid,” the governor said.

Marissa Gillett, chair of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, said preparation plans filed by United Illuminating and Eversource showed that UI accurately projected the storm’s threat, while Eversource did not.

As part of its investigation, PURA will examine what Eversource has done with ratepayer money to harden its infrastructure, hire sufficient staff and pre-stage extra crews in advance of the storm.

Eversource said Tuesday it had 450 restoration crews and 235 tree crews active, with an expectation that those numbers will double by Thursday.

To fill that need, the company will call on mutual aid arrangements that bring crews in from other states. Eversource says it has crews on the way from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Canada. 

Bringing in outside crews is more complicated during a pandemic, but Lamont’s office has assured the companies that it won’t be enforcing the state’s quarantine rules on out-of-state workers in this situation.

Eversource has said it will train incoming crews on its pandemic work practices and use of personal protective equipment. According to the company, workers are social distancing when they can, and all wear face coverings.

As crews continued to work, the struggle for many Wednesday was how to stay cool with no power, as temperatures headed into the 90s.

Michael Barnes came from Naugatuck to stay with his family in Waterbury. He lost power in Naugatuck around 3:30 Tuesday. He was grateful for the air conditioning at his grandmother’s house.

“Yeah, praise the Lord for the coolness, ’cause I mean, the weather out here is ridiculous,” he said.

Jean and Paul Russ also lost power Tuesday afternoon at their home in Woodbridge. They have a generator but kept it off because they were low on gas, and the couple said they hadn’t heard anything from the town since Tuesday morning.

The two spent some time reminiscing about other storms they’ve lived through. Hurricane Gloria in 1985 knocked out their power for seven days.

“This was bad enough, but I’ve seen worse,” said Paul Russ.

This post has been updated.

Kelly Lang and her children, 3-year-old James and almost 1-year-old Elise, walk near Whitman Avenue and Pleasant Street in West Hartford. Isaias knocked out the power in their home. "I still have water and that's more important right now," Lang said.
Joe Amon / Connecticut Public
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Kelly Lang and her children, 3-year-old James and almost 1-year-old Elise, walk near Whitman Avenue and Pleasant Street in West Hartford. Isaias knocked out the power in their home. "I still have water and that's more important right now," Lang said.
Lines await repair at the intersection of Mountain and Glenwood roads in West Hartford.
Joe Amon / Connecticut Public
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Lines await repair at the intersection of Mountain and Glenwood roads in West Hartford.
Shoes on a wire are just about within arm's reach at the intersection of Whitman Avenue and Pleasant Street, where Tropical Storm Isaias knocked down trees and a telephone pole.
Joe Amon / Connecticut Public
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Shoes on a wire are just about within arm's reach at the intersection of Whitman Avenue and Pleasant Street, where Tropical Storm Isaias knocked down trees and a telephone pole.

Copyright 2020 Connecticut Public Radio

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