Bridgeport, CT – Today, Congressman Jim Himes (CT-04) submitted testimony to Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) regarding the failures of Eversource before and after tropical storm Isaias that resulted in approximately a million Connecticut residents losing power, including tens of thousands who were without power for nearly a week. PURA held a hearing this morning regarding Eversource’s recently proposed rate increase, which should receive heightened scrutiny during the coronavirus crisis and until critical issues with Eversource’s preparation and response are addressed.
Congressman Himes’ full written testimony is here:
“For years, we’ve been told that Connecticut’s high electricity costs are part of the trade-off to replace and update poles, wires and pipes, as well as make other infrastructure improvements, to build a more reliable grid. Tropical Storm Isaias revealed what little return on investment ratepayers appear to have gotten in exchange. Power outages prevented hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents from working or logging on for virtual learning. Downed trees and power lines trapped many of my constituents inside their homes and potentially put them at risk by delaying response times for emergency services. This unfolded for days as Eversource stumbled to navigate its storm response.
“We’ve been here before. When Hurricanes Sandy and Irene ripped across Connecticut, the state worked with Eversource to improve system resiliency. It’s not clear to me how consumers have benefited from these investments. Eversource restored power at a glacial pace, struggled to communicate with local officials and the public, and misjudged the storm’s strength. These errors exponentially increased the harm done to my constituents, particularly given the COVID emergency; staying safe during the pandemic is difficult enough even with power and utilities, and downright near impossible without them.
“Eversource could not provide restoration timelines for each town until Saturday, August 8, a full four days after the conclusion of the storm. But even those estimates failed to account for the unique circumstances on the ground. For example, seventeen medically vulnerable customers in Wilton were without power eight days after Isaias hit. Municipal leaders and emergency personnel also struggled to get answers from the utility’s community liaisons, if they could even contact them at all. Eversource must work more closely with our mayors and first selectmen to improve communication and provide frequent, accurate, and substantive updates on restoration. In addition, it must do a better job of communicating with the public. At the onset of the storm, technical issues with Eversource’s alerting system plagued customers trying to report damage and outages. In assessing any future rate hike, PURA should also review the utility’s preparation for Isaias. United Illuminating projected a “Level 3” event, whereas Eversource classified Isaias as a “Level 4” event until the storm struck.
“We must now begin the difficult but necessary step of assessing how we got here. I fully support PURA’s broader review of the utility companies’ preparation and planning for the storm. We also need to deal with the matter at hand today: Eversource’s recent rate increase. For our part, Connecticut’s federal delegation will continue to work with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to reexamine formulas that have contributed to increased consumer expenses. But more needs to be done at the state level.
“For too long, Connecticut residents have borne the brunt of Eversource’s failure to respond to a crisis. Before PURA approves any further rate increase, we need to know that Eversource shares the burden equally with its customers. Moreover, we need to consider shifting to a system of performance-based regulation where Eversource is required to prioritize affordability and reliability. I look forward to working with our state officials, the members of this body, and the Governor to implement commonsense solutions like this and prevent a repeat of this debacle. Starting today, I hope that PURA will take appropriate steps to protect ratepayers and get the answers that we deserve.”
For more information or with questions, contact Patrick Malone at Patrick.firstname.lastname@example.org.