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Getting Ready for the Next Big Storm

Law makes utilities responsible for preparing for major weather events or pay penalty

AARP Bulletin State News State News CT: Utilities and Emergency Preparedness

Robert Rodman, whose Avon house lost power for eight days after last year’s nor'easter, joined AARP Connecticut in lobbying to hold utilities accountable when they fail to adequately prepare for emergencies. — Photo by Rob Penner

"Last year's twin storms caused great hardship for thousands of people, and exposed some serious shortcomings in our state's utility infrastructure and preparedness for emergencies," said state Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, chairman of the Energy & Technology Committee. "This bill will put the tools in place to minimize the outages that do occur in future emergencies, and to restore power and communications more quickly."

The law, signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) in June, requires utility companies to file plans with PURA every two years rather than every five years for how they're going to restore service in an emergency. Cellphone service providers must report on the backup power generation abilities of their cell towers. State agencies, working with municipalities, are required to develop a procedure by January for prompt road clearing so that public safety workers can get through.

Changes in the works

Connecticut Light & Power is working with PURA to develop standards to try to minimize disruption after the next major storm, said Al Lara, a spokesman with Northeast Utilities, CL&P's parent company.

"Soon after last year's storms, CL&P began the process of enhancing its emergency procedures to handle larger, unprecedented restorations and ensuring timely and accurate communication of restoration information," he said. "We've doubled our tree trimming for 2012 [trees were the major cause of the outages] to $53 million."

CL&P created regional coordination specialists who will work in five regions to help organize and communicate the utility's response to neighboring municipalities, Lara said.

The United Illuminating Co., whose customers were more affected by tropical storm Irene than by the October snows, found that the biggest concern came from municipalities that wanted to specify high-priority buildings for swift power restoration, said Michael A. West Jr., a spokesman for United Illuminating. "We've increased priority locations that they've identified."

Theresa Sullivan Barger is a freelance writer based in Canton, Conn.

Also of interest: Privacy concerns about smart meters.

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The move to deregulate energy utilities was made to encourage competitive pricing and customer service. The outcome however, has been very different from its intended purpose.

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