State Regulators Open The Floor To Public Comment On How Utilities Responded To Isaias | Connecticut Public Radio

State Regulators Open The Floor To Public Comment On How Utilities Responded To Isaias

Oct 21, 2020

State Attorney General William Tong said Wednesday utilities Eversource and United Illuminating should immediately compensate ratepayers for food and medicine lost during Tropical Storm Isaias.

Tong’s remarks opened three days of scheduled public comment on how utilities prepared for and responded to Tropical Storm Isaias. But on Wednesday, only a handful of people joined the call to share their stories. 

Earlier this month, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill requiring utilities to reimburse customers for lost food and medicine after some emergency power outages. 

The bill, which was ushered through a special session of the General Assembly, was hailed as a legislative win after a storm that knocked out power to more than 800,000 customers and left some people without electricity for more than a week. 

But the bill is prospective, which means it doesn’t require those reimbursements to begin until next year.

“That is not likely to apply to Tropical Storm Isaias and the response of the electric distribution companies to that storm,” Tong told members of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, or PURA.

“We ask PURA to step forward and help the people of this state by directing Eversource and UI to reimburse ratepayers for losses … including spoiled food and lost medicine," Tong said.

PURA opened up an investigation into the utilities’ storm planning and response only two days after Isaias hit Connecticut in early August. The proceedings are scheduled to continue into next year. And right now, it’s not immediately clear how any reimbursement would legally work. 

Still, Tong said customers expect utilities to be held accountable for their storm response.

“We pay them to be ready. We give them a franchise, a monopoly to be ready. And we literally bet our lives on their ability to be ready, to manage risk, and to be prepared for severe weather and even unexpected and unpredictable weather,” Tong said. “We have to find out in this inquiry what was known -- or knowable -- to Eversource and United Illuminating about this storm, and did they appropriately plan for the severity of Tropical Storm Isaias.”

In a written statement, Ed Crowder, a spokesperson for United Illuminated, said he hopes the inquiry does just that. 

“UI is fully participating, and we welcome this objective assessment of our readiness and response,” Crowder said. 

It was a sentiment echoed by Eversource spokesperson Mitch Gross.

“Every major storm poses unique challenges for our customers and provides us with the invaluable opportunity to examine our emergency response processes and procedures,” Gross said in an email. “These public comment sessions are an important part of PURA’s storm review process -- allowing customers and community leaders to express their input and share their experiences.” 

But while state legislative hearings in the immediate aftermath of Isaias drew wide condemnation from the public and lawmakers about how the two major utilities handled the storms, Wednesday’s affair before PURA was much more muted and significantly more brief. 

After a handful of elected officials spoke, only four members of the public offered any comment. 

The whole meeting wrapped up in less than one hour.