Conn. utilities facing more heat over outages

March 19, 2010 3:51:58 AM PDT
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says he's launched his own investigation into utility companies' response to tens of thousands of power and phone service outages in storm-damaged Fairfield County. Blumenthal said Thursday that lengthy delays in restoring power since the storm hit Saturday have caused anger and anxiety. He says he's requested information from Connecticut Light & Power Co., The United Illuminating Co. and AT&T.

CL&P, which serves most of the area, reports about 2,700 outages Friday morning, down from a high of 147,000. United Illuminating is reporting no outages. Both companies say they responded aggressively to the outages.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell says she called CL&P officials Thursday to express frustration. State utility regulators are also investigating.

Complaints about slow response by the two utilities led Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Tuesday to ask state regulators to investigate how they handled the outages. State regulators are investigating.

"I want to be honest with you and right up front with you ... and tell you that CL&P and UI frankly did not get rave reviews in their initial response to the storm and its damage," Rell told reporters following the State Bond Commission meeting.

Rell said she asked the Department of Public Utility Control Chairman Kevin DelGobbo to pull work records of the utility crews to make sure as many workers as possible were deployed to restore electricity on Saturday and Sunday.

"I want to know that all the forces were out there and that they were out there as quickly as possible," she said.

A DPUC spokesman said the agency would carry out Rell's request.

More than 85,000 customers lost power in Connecticut at the height of the three-day storm that hit Saturday.

Spokesmen for both companies say their crews responded aggressively.

"We have had crews out working 24 hours a day since this event began," said UI spokeswoman Anita Steeves, noting the company had restored power to more than 24,000 homes and businesses it serves in the New Haven and Bridgeport areas.

"What was particularly frustrating about this storm," she said, "is the winds continued to be high Sunday and Monday."

CL&P issued a statement saying it's the company's practice to conduct a detailed review and critique of its performance after a significant power restoration effort to identify opportunities for improvement.

"We welcome the opportunity to work with the DPUC and other state officials in that review as well with the towns, local officials and our customers," the statement said.

Officials from Local 457 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers told The Day of New London that CL&P's response to the power outages was delayed because the company did not want to pay some crews double time for working longer shifts.

The union said CL&P set a schedule for linesmen Saturday and Sunday that avoided a higher double time pay rate and delayed power restoration to some customers. One union official says only 25 percent of workers were allowed to work overnight.

CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross denied the allegations and told The Day that the company's response has been aggressive.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)