Conn. AG seeks CL&P penalties over storm costs

Conn. attorney general asks regulators to punish CL&P over 2011 snow storm power outages

Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen released documents on Tuesday that he said demonstrates that the state's biggest utility knew it could not keep a promise to restore nearly all electricity following an October 2011 snow storm that cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers for up to 11 days.

Jepsen is asking the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to cut CL&P's request for $175 million in higher rates over six years. CL&P is a unit of Northeast Utilities.

Following an investigation in which the utility turned over emails and other documents, Jepsen said one email called estimates by utility executives for power restoration "the work of fiction," while another email advised utility executives that a goal of restoring power for 99 percent of customers could be missed.

Jeffrey Butler, then the president and chief operating officer of the utility, publicly promised in the aftermath of the storm that 99 percent of customers would have electricity restored by Nov. 6, eight days after the storm hit Connecticut. The pledge fell short by several days, leading to criticism from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and others. Butler resigned in November 2011.

"We made the case that CL&P should have known that the 99 percent commitment was unachievable and it should not have misled consumers in the state," Jepsen said.

The utility said it disagrees with Jepsen and that it will address his claims during the regulatory proceeding.

"It is important to note that CL&P worked tirelessly with PURA during its investigation into the 2011 storms while at the same time implementing recommended changes," it said.

CL&P is seeking about $175 million for repairs and restoration work related to the October 2011 storm. It also is seeking permission to raise rates paid by customers over six years for Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, Superstorm Sandy last October and two other storms last year and in 2011. It is seeking a total of $414 million in higher rates over six years.

Jepsen said documents he received in his investigation include a handwritten note by an unidentified senior CL&P official in charge of restoration who said she provided an estimate of 99 percent restored by Nov. 9, 2011, if she received 20 additional crews.

In addition, handwritten notes dated Nov. 1 made by a CL&P official said restoration dates were estimated beyond Nov. 6 for several towns and as late at Nov. 9 for Hartford, the attorney general said.

And an entry log at the CL&P emergency operations center on Nov. 4 said, "Do not promise by community.some communities may be over 1 percent (unrestored) by midnight Sunday, making us unable to reach our goal the way it is currently stated."

An email dated Nov. 3 from a utility day shift commander revised restoration estimates for a few towns and said estimates are "quite the work of fiction . I don't think this should be shared with any town official as it is not really a good picture of what we are doing."

Jepsen said the documents were not provided to state regulators during their investigation and as a result, they did not get a full picture of CL&P's response to the storm.

PURA said last August that CL&P failed to get adequate help before the storm and that its response was deficient. Regulators said they will consider reducing the allowed profit as a penalty.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Joe Courtney have also asked PURA to reject most of CL&P's request for reimbursed costs. The two Democratic lawmakers said CL&P's response to the snow storm and Tropical Storm Irene were inadequate.

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