CL&P Should Learn from the Past to Better Serve Its Customers in the Future

COMMENTARY | As I was driving in my neighborhood recently, I saw a man on a metal ladder in the middle of an intersection.

He had no reflective vest or helmet, special equipment, or the help of utility workers or police nearby. There were no orange cones or signs around the ladder to warn motorists.

I looked up to see him use metal shears to cut small tree branches that were touching live wires. I crossed my fingers and hoped he was a licensed electrician.

Seeing this prompted me to look around and discover that many trees and bushes have wires through or near them in Montville.

This is two weeks after Tropical Storm Irene knocked out power to all of Montville and over 800,000 customers in Connecticut. The storm netted the highest number of power outages ever on record.

While over half of all Montville residents were powerless for five days; some folks were in the dark for over a week.

Other Eastern Connecticut towns fared worse with Salem, North Stonington, and Griswold being completely in the dark 48 hours after the storm left Connecticut.

The cost to restore power totaled $100 million mainly caused by trees toppling wires. One might ask were these trees already at danger of falling before the storm?

According to CL&P, “Before any tree work can be performed on private property, our company contractors must obtain consent from tree owners.”

I wonder how many had been contacted by CL&P for permission to remove or trim trees that were near or on wires before Irene hit. I’m curious as to how many folks refused claiming they want to save their historic trees.

It’s possible that such issues were neglected as trees slowly grew into wires. Such matters may have been called in by residents but never taken care of.

“Tree trimming is the most effective means of improving reliability for customers, our tree work also benefits the communities we serve by removing dead or diseased trees that not only threaten the lines and rights-of-way but also public roads,” the CL&P web site states.

In fact, better tree trimming is just one of the suggestions noted in a letter to CL&P from Senator Richard Blumenthal and State Representative Joe Courtney.

The letter also recommends the utility review the number of in-state work crews, assign one work crew to each town to work with their public works departments and local officials, coordinate their emergency operations plan with that of each town, establish a frequently updated timeline for power restoration, and assign a year round community liaison for each town.

The letter states “municipally owned utilities in Norwich, Groton and Jewett City assigned crews to work directly with the municipal public works department. Power was restored in these communities – and in other towns served by municipal utilities – much more quickly than by CL&P due in part to better coordination.” The Day reported on Norwich’s quick response.

Other political leaders have questioned CL&P’s response as well.

Norwich’s ability to restore power less than 48 hours after the storm ended was indeed a feather in their cap. Folks from surrounding towns came in droves to the businesses along West Main Street. Long lines formed at fast food restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, and Wal-Mart. While these Norwich businesses benefited from the storm; many in other towns, including Montville, lost between three and seven days of sales.

Montville residents have questioned how long they would have been without power if the region were hit by a more powerful hurricane.

Unless CL&P can produce a comprehensive plan in how it will address these concerns; I would recommend that our region look into forming its own utility. While it is not a cheap proposal, it is allowed under state law and could receive the support of many frustrated residents.

With the annual threat of hurricanes, tropical storms, flooding, and snow storms; it is time for CL&P to step up to the plate in developing a better plan in maintaining its infrastructure, dealing with emergencies, and communicating with officials and general public.

Anything less puts our entire state at risk.

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