While Hurricane Isaias was still in the Caribbean, officials from Eversource sent a letter to state regulators predicting the storm’s impact. It was the only such letter they sent before the storm.
But that letter came one day before the utility got a prediction from UConn about the storm’s impact on the power grid. And now, Eversource is facing scrutiny, and hundreds of thousands of customers are still without power.
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Eversource filed a what’s called a pre-staging letter with the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority on July 31. That letter predicted a “Level 4” storm and anticipated up to 30% of customers would lose power.
But while Eversource officials said they use UConn’s data in addition to outside weather experts to predict storms, in this case, UConn said it didn’t send Eversource its report until one day later.
Still, even on Aug. 1, the storm was tricky to predict.
“Obviously, the hurricane was really far away from our area,” said Diego Cerrai, a UConn researcher who sent the report to Eversource. “It was still south of Florida, so there were a lot of uncertainties at this time.”
In a statement, Eversource said regulators require utilities to file before bringing in outside storm repair crews.
“We filed on that Friday, July 31, or risked losing these crews to another utility,” Eversource spokesperson Mitch Gross said in an emailed statement. “These resources are among the hundreds of line workers still hard at work helping restore power to our customers.”
Cerrai said his group issued several more outage forecasts to Eversource that signaled a more powerful storm. Still, the actual effects of Isaias were worse than his worst projection.
“Even if the last update that we sent was calling for an extreme storm, we didn’t expect 800,000 people without power,” Cerrai said.
PURA officials said Eversource did not update its prediction of the storm’s severity until the worst of Isaias had left the state. Eversource officials did not comment when asked why they didn’t file updated storm pre-staging letters with the state.
“We found out (verbally) at 10:00 a.m. this morning, as reported by Eversource, that they reclassified to Level 2 last night at 11,” PURA spokesperson Taren O’Connor said in an email Thursday afternoon.
A Level 2 storm anticipates massive power outages: more than 625,000 to 870,000 customers with restoration times that could stretch as long as 21 days.
As of 9:15 a.m. Thursday, there were approximately 541,000 Eversource customers without service. Power had been restored to 332,811 customers since the storm began on Tuesday, Aug. 4.
“Unfortunately, declaring a Level 2 event after the storm has already passed does little to correct for inadequate pre-staging that would have been required for a timely restoration response, as it takes time to secure the additional resources needed,” O’Connor wrote.