Monroe testimony factors into $29 million fine against Eversource for response to Tropical Storm Isaias

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A massive cleanup effort and damages from Tropical Storm Isaias carried close to $200,000 in costs for the town. Contributed

MONROE, CT — High winds from Tropical Storm Isaias left many residents without power last summer, some for days, leading to frustration and complaints against Eversource over its response to the storm. Now, one year later, the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Agency (PURA) agreed, slapping the utility company with a $29 million fine.

Monroe First Selectman Ken Kellogg, who was critical of the response, issued a press release hailing PURA’s decision Monday.

“Our residents were frustrated and angry and I needed to ensure their voice was heard,” Kellogg said during over two hours of testimony, which he said PURA cites in its decision as evidence of the experience in multiple municipalities.

The first selectman had directed Town Attorney Frank Lieto to file for intervenor status in PURA’s investigation and solicited testimony from residents affected by the storm, resulting in 76 submissions on the town’s website and over 100 pages of documents.

PURA’s investigation into electrical distribution companies’ preparation and response to the tropical storm was sparked by widespread complaints in the state.

In its final decision released earlier this year, PURA concluded that “Eversource failed to satisfy the performance standards for managing its municipal liaison program, executing its Make Safe responsibilities, communicating critical information to its customers, or meeting its obligation to secure adequate resources in a timely manner to protect the public safety and to provide for the overall public interest.”

PURA has subsequently made a final decision to impose a $29 million fine for Eversource, which will be paid by profit reductions, and not through rate increases, according to Kellogg.

Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross was reached for comment on PURA’s decision.

“Time and time again our employees work tirelessly to restore power as quickly as possible and support our customers and communities when outages occur,” he said. “We cannot control the weather, or the damage that is caused by falling trees and vegetation when storm damage occurs. However, our employees are relentless in returning to the field every time they are called upon to repair the damage and get the power back on as quickly as safety allows. Our focus now is on the future and assuring that our emergency response efforts are intensive and that our employees are safe and secure in doing their jobs on behalf of our customers and communities.”

Focus on improvements

Kellogg said his intent in participating in the hearings was solely to ensure that future improvements are made.

“Our Eversource liaisons are good people, with good intentions,” he said. “However, the system they were working within did not provide them with any actionable information or ability to coordinate or communicate with any specificity. Furthermore, they simply did not have the necessary resources, primarily their make safe crews, to make timely progress in road clearing and restoration.”

Kellogg said he is pleased that Eversource has already begun to implement enhancements and improvements.

“They now have an improved process for Town officials to report blocked roads, standardized and improved town-level reporting of crew status and deployments, and a clear methodology for towns to identify priority issues that impact continuity of operations,” Kellogg said.

Eversource has also stated that future responses will have a focus on, and additional resources to coordinate, their “Make Safe Blocked Roads” phase of response immediately following storms, according to Kellogg.

“I am certainly hopeful that when the next inevitable event occurs, we will see the benefits of these improvements,” he said.

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