Senate expected to pass utility reforms after Aug. outages

Ct National Grid
A Fire Department official guards himself against the gusting winds of Tropical Storm Isaias, at Farmington Ave where a tree fell across wires and shut down the street for blocks in Plainville, Connecticut. (Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant via AP)

By Susan Haigh, Associated Press

 

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut Senate was expected Thursday to give final legislative approval to a bill that could ultimately base electric rates on a utility’s performance, a move that’s in response to thousands of electric customers being left without power for more than a week after Tropical Storm Isaias hit the state in August.

The House of Representatives passed the bipartisan proposal late Wednesday on a 136-4 vote. It was one of nearly a dozen disparate bills, including legislation to give local election officials more time to begin processing absentee ballots, that cleared the House. The Senate was expected to pass the same bills on Thursday during the General Assembly’s second special legislative session to be held during the coronavirus pandemic with most senators listening to the debate in their offices.

During Wednesday’s debate, both Democratic and Republican legislators relayed their constituents’ frustration with Eversource, the state’s largest electric distribution company, for its response to the storm, which came on the heels of a controversial rate increase that’s now being investigated by regulators. They spoke of elderly constituents without water because they had no electricity and rely on well water, and municipal officials and residents who had communication difficulties with Eversource about restoration efforts.

“People wanted to know. They needed to be able to make plans, to have an idea. ‘Are my lights going to come back on in 24 hours, 48 hours or two weeks from now? I just need an idea,’” said Rep. Gary Turco, D-Newington. “And they weren’t able to get that information.”

Eversource CEO Jim Judge told state legislators in August that he understood many customers were frustrated by the company’s response and lengthy outages, especially given the pandemic, but insisted the company was well-prepared for the storm. He said Eversource has made numerous improvements over the years that have resulted in improved service and reliability.

Besides a new performance-based system for determining rates, financial incentives and penalties for electric distribution companies, the legislation would also require customers to be credited $25 a day and reimbursed $250 in compensation for spoiled food and medication during lengthy outages of 96 consecutive hours after an emergency. That would have amounted to $19 million for the 255,000 customers left without power after four days, lawmakers said.

By mid-day on Thursday, the Senate approved four judicial nominations, including Appellate Judge Christine Keller, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s choice to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court, with scant debate. They were also expected to vote on legislation that streamlines a state law regulating the transfer of certain polluted properties and legislation; authorizes funding for school construction projects; extends rules for hemp growers and manufacturers that were set to expire; and clarifies that condominium associations are eligible to apply for a supplemental loan program to cover certain expenses related to remediating crumbling foundations, a problem that has impacted both condos and individual homes in eastern Connecticut, among other bills.

 

© The Associated Press 2020

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