CL&P struggling to find crews to repair storm damage

As Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vented his own frustrations, the head of Connecticut’s largest utility conceded his company is struggling to mobilize the workforce it needs to respond more quickly to last weekend’s snow storm.

But Connecticut Light & Power Co. President and CEO Jeffrey Butler refused to back off his projection that all power would be restored by Sunday, within a week of the storm that dumped over one foot of snow on the state’s central and northern regions.

Butler also confirmed Tuesday that his company made two payments this week, and will make a third on Wednesday, to out-of-state crews that helped with power restoration in Connecticut following Tropical Storm Irene, which hit the state on Aug. 27-28.

Connecticut residents “are running out of patience and so am I,” Malloy said to open his evening media briefing at the state armory in Hartford. “I’m not interested in excuses or apologies,” the governor said, adding he also had hoped to see more crews working in the state to reverse outage levels that peaked at more than 884,000 customers last weekend.

More than 650,000 CL&P customers still were without power as of 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

United Illuminating spokesman Bill Reis said his company had restored power to about 50,000 customers by Tuesday evening and expected to have the final 1,800 back on line by midnight. UI serves about one-fifth of Connecticut’s electric customers, primarily along the state’s southwestern shoreline.

CL&P, which serves about 80 percent of Connecticut’s electric customers, had 493 line crews working Tuesday to restore service. That was complemented by more than 900 other teams clearing trees, removing downed wires, repairing critical transmission lines that serve regional substations, and performing other functions.

Among those line crews, 172 are company employed, with the remainder hired by contract, primarily from out of state.

Butler said the company expects to have 627 line crews in the field by Wednesday, 727 by Thursday and 837 by Friday.

Earlier this week Butler said the company hoped to get more than 1,000 line crews in the field by the end of the week.

“We still have outstanding requests for line crews,” he said. “We have been looking since last Friday.”

The CL&P executive dismissed speculation that outstanding payments for restoration work performed after Tropical Storm Irene has affected the company’s search for extra crews. Butler confirmed that two invoices were paid Monday and a third was due to be paid on Wednesday, but said those bills are promptly reviewed and paid upon receipt. “I don’t know when we received those invoices,” he said.

When asked about his earlier projection that restoration work would be concluded by Sunday, Butler initially said “that’s what we’re pushing for.” When pressed whether he believed it still was likely, he added, “I absolutely believe it is.”

Malloy, who created a study panel to examine both the state’s emergency preparedness and the utilities’ handling of damage from Tropical Storm Irene, said Tuesday he would expand the group’s charge to assess the response to the October Nor’easter.

One of the critical differences between last weekend’s storm and Irene, according to Butler, involved the damage to critical transmission lines as well as more significant wire disruption by fallen trees.

None of these transmission lines, which serve substations that in turn each provide power to thousands of customers, were damaged in the August storm.