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

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

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 well before the storm hit customers were told that power could be out for a week or more in some areas. However, he said: “the 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 2 or 3 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 Sept. 4. 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 Face Book.

In CL&Ps 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&Ps posted response.

The Donovans got power eight days after the storm. And while this is a Wilton story, it will likely resonate with many across the state. And that’s why hearings are needed, said several legislators.

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, Democrat representing several towns in the 102nd House District including Branford.

Jennifer Lisi September 13, 2011 at 09:21 PM
I was without power - and as a result, water - until the night of 9/4. While I wasn't happy about the answers I was getting, I was getting answers from CL&P. I called everyday from 9/1 through the 4th and spoke with some very helpful, considerate and understanding customer service reps. Pretty early on they told me my power might not be on until Tuesday the 6th so when I got it back on the 4th I was actually very happy! I don't understand why it took 8 days, but I cannot complain about the updates and communication.
Pem McNerney (Editor) September 13, 2011 at 10:55 PM
Good point ... two issues, one being communication, the other being the timeliness (or not) of power restoration. Company and town officials did say prior to the storm that, if it was a bad one, that power could be out for a week or more. I think those in town who had been through Gloria knew it could be that long, too. For some of us, it was hard to imagine it might take that long, but now we know. Like you, I was satisfied with the information I was given, but I was in a place where I had electricity and internet (having evacuated after the town requested it), so I had the info I need. The puzzle of how to provide people with adequate updates during an extended power outage, when we are so reliant upon electronic forms of communication, remains. I look forward to a constructive conversation about this.

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