The effort to clean up in Connecticut towns and cities continues, a week after Tropical Storm Isaias tore through the state -- leaving many to stew in the dark over the response from utility companies.
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Hours after power was restored to Harper Court, a street in Bristol, James Tefoe was actually defending one: Eversource.
“I understand a lot of people are upset with them, but to get in and out of my driveway, they were very accommodating,” Tefoe said. “They answered all my questions of when we were going to get power. They were doing the best they can, and I appreciate that.”
While Tefoe is happy with Eversource, he’s angry with a cable company. His ability to leave the house had been compromised for almost a week by giant black cables obstructing access to the street.
“Internet, cable TV, phone [cables] -- the explanation I got from Xfinity is they were not assigned this yet and it’s not a priority,” Tefoe said.
Power was out at the Tefoe household for five days. Bristol Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu told Connecticut Public Radio that once crews got to work on Harper Court, it took eight and a half hours to restore power.
Nicolette Chartier, her three children and her springer spaniel intently watched cleanup efforts Monday. But they weren’t waiting for their electricity to return -- they never lost power in the aftermath of Isaias. The family has been keeping up with the linemen and have even fed them snacks.
“Some of them had been working all night and into the morning and hadn’t really taken a break yet,” Chartier said.
She hopes other people will give the linemen some love like her family did, rather than direct frustration over losing power at the workers.
“They’re working hard, give them some credit,” Chartier said. “Give them a water. Give them a Gatorade. Get them a snack. Make them a sandwich.”
At the peak of outages on Aug. 5, about 55% of customers in Bristol were without power. On Monday, it was less than 1%.
Shortly after Tefoe went into his home after an interview, a union contractor working on behalf of the cable company lifted the giant wires back onto the utility pole.
Lamont Visits Harper Court, Department Of Public Works
The effort to clear Harper Court represents the city’s plan to deploy every available resource to supplement the work of power companies post-Isaias.
“Eversource, Asplundh, a crane company, public works, Frontier and Comcast altogether -- eight and a half hours for one small street,” Zoppo-Sassu said.
“When you multiply that across the needs and the assessments that have to be done in a state such as ours, it’s critically important that Eversource and their linemen have the resources that they need to get out into the streets and start solving these problems immediately,” she said.
Zoppo-Sassu invited Gov. Ned Lamont to survey the storm damage in Bristol Monday. He addressed reporters from a garage at the Bristol Department of Public Works -- a hub of activity for storm responders -- saying Bristol’s response is an example of “what went right.”
“We now have 99 percent of the people [with] their power back,” Lamont said. “That’s not good news for the one percent still without here in Bristol, but that’s a start, and it wouldn’t have been possible without each and every one of you.”
During the briefing, Lamont outlined what he’d like state regulators to do as they examine the response of power companies to the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Isaias. He doesn’t think Eversource, in particular, was ready to go. That’s something he’d like to avoid in the future by incentivizing or penalizing companies based on performance instead of rates being tied to expenses.
“Performance is measured in terms of how fast you respond, how quickly you get the lights back on, how prepared you were, how much you pre-positioned people in place in anticipation of what’s going on,” Lamont said.
“We reward you when you get that right, but we don’t reward you when you get that wrong.”
At Lamont’s request, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority is investigating Eversource and United Illuminating for their storm prep, handling of outage reports and the actual storm response. They could face civil penalties.
But Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said many stakeholders he’s talked to are leery of PURA. DeLong said he’s heard from mayors and first selectmen who want to know why certain actions related to Eversource have made it through PURA.
“If they’re doing their jobs instead of always investigating things after the fact -- we investigate after [Superstorm] Sandy, we investigate after the rate increase [that boosted bills for Eversource customers in July],” DeLong said.
“But maybe if they were doing their jobs on the front end, we wouldn’t have to launch all these investigations on the back end,” he said.
In response, Lamont said that he’s confident in his ability to manage the situation and that he’ll work to ensure incentives are properly aligned.
Zoppo-Sassu hit on what she’d like to see from the investigation: better communication between power and cable companies.