Posted on 10 Nov 2011
Connecticut's attorney general said Wednesday he will research whether the state's largest power utility broke any laws in its handling of outages that left thousands of people in the cold and the dark for more than a week in the wake of a pre-Halloween snowstorm.
Connecticut Light & Power is facing at least five investigations into the outages triggered by the Oct. 29 storm, which brought trees down on power lines across the state and cut electricity to a total of more than 830,000 customers. But the probe by Attorney General George Jepsen could carry the most serious consequences.
Jepsen told The Associated Press in an interview that his office will develop a legal theory that could determine if CL&P violated any laws.
The storm dumped more than two foot of snow and knocked out power to more than 3 million customers in the Northeast. Power was restored to the vast majority within days, but several thousand in Connecticut were still in the dark as of Wednesday — 11 days after the storm.
Jepsen said he does not believe outrage by customers and elected officials will fade anytime soon.
"There's a level of anger I've not seen in 56 years," he said. "People are already stressed economically and stressed because of the severity of last winter's storms and Irene. People are very stressed. They're at the breaking point."
Jepsen is asking the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to gather emails, correspondence and other documents to determine if CL&P had a plan to manage its electrical system during and after the storm.
He would not speculate what laws CL&P could have violated. The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority governs how the utility runs its business in numerous ways, such as the accuracy of meters, conservation and the safety and reliability of the electric distribution system. In theory at least, any of the authority's requirements could have been breached in an outage as lengthy as the one caused by last month's storm.
Jepsen noted that state regulation actually could make it harder to prosecute.
"If CL&P did what regulators asked it to do, it's harder to establish liability," he said.
A spokeswoman for Hartford-based Northeast Utilities, the parent company of CL&P, said the number of investigations is to be expected because the outages affected so many residents and businesses for so long.
"I think that in order for all the stakeholders to feel they are involved, we're going to need these many investigations," spokeswoman Marie van Luling said.
Northeast Utilities announced Wednesday it will pay for a review of its preparedness and response to the snowstorm. It also offered $10 million to establish a fund to help residential customers who experienced losses because of the storm.
As of midday Wednesday, 11 days after the storm, some 3,500 customers in the state were still in the dark. Connecticut Light & Power has missed several self-imposed deadlines, including a pledge to restore electricity to 99 percent of its customers by Sunday night. But the utility said it aimed to restore power to everyone by midnight Wednesday.
Frustration has been mounting. The Hartford Courant reported that three arrests in Avon could be attributed to the outages, including a 33-year-old man who threatened utility workers and a 39-year-old who falsely claimed he was shocked by live wires in his driveway so he could get his power fixed.