Malloy assigns National Guard to assist CL&P

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy directed the Connecticut National Guard on Thursday evening to begin supplementing utility company crews performing tree removal work as part of statewide power restoration efforts.

The governor, who said four teams composed of about 100 guard members would begin work Thursday night in Avon and Simsbury, two communities with exceptional levels of tree damage. Malloy said the guard already had been supplementing Department of Transportation efforts to clear state routes, but that work now has been completed.

And while the president of Connecticut Light & Power Co. apologized again to his company’s customers for the length of power restoration since last Saturday’s storm first knocked out service most residences and businesses, Malloy again warned he would hold the company to all of its target dates for returning service.

“I want to be very clear: We have moved to another stage in our repair work,” Malloy said during Thursday’s evening briefing at the state armory in Hartford.

Major Gen. Thad Martin assembled four teams of guard members to begin work, and that effort likely would be expanded to other communities were tree damage is extensive, the governor said.

Though guard members would assist with tree removal, Malloy cautioned that they–like all others assisting professional utility crews–are limited in what they can do.

“They can’t do anything the municipalities’ (public works crews) can’t do,” the governor said. “They have to wait until the (power) lines are clear” before removing trees and and branches.

Malloy also continued to show a certain amount of skepticism about CL&P President Jeffrey Butler’s prediction that all of the outages would be corrected by the end of Sunday.

As of 7 p.m., Thursday, CL&P’s website was reporting 391,755 outages still remained to be addressed.

“I wonder myself (about the Sunday deadline) after getting out there and seeing all of this damage,” Malloy said. “I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes if they failed to deliver.”

More than 884,000 customers of CL&P and the state’s other major utility, United Illuminating, lost power during and immediately after Saturday’s snow storm, which left more than a foot of snow on much of northern and central Connecticut. UI completed restoration work Tuesday on its roughly 52,000 customers who had lost power, and its crews now are assisting CL&P.

Butler, who offered an apology Thursday evening for the length of the restoration effort, also has pledged to have the outage total down to 300,000 by Friday morning.

“The thing that I’m sorry about is that so many residents have been out of power for so long,” he said. “I personally wish restoration was faster.”

Attorney General George Jepsen asked state utility regulators on Thursday to investigate the utility’s preparedness to respond to the storm damage.

“I have received numerous complaints from affected citizens, many of whom are still waiting for their power to be restored,” Jepsen said. “Reliable electric service is a matter of public health and safety, and Connecticut’s citizens deserve to know that the utilities and the state are doing everything possible to provide electric service as soon as possible.”

Among the issues Jepsen asked the Public Utility Regulatory Authority to investigate is CL&P’s policy not to pay any retainer fee to private crews in advance of the storm to ensure they are immediately available to assist in Connecticut is needed.

CL&P’s regular repair crews represent only a small fraction of the work force used to respond to major events like last weekend’s storm, or Tropical Storm Irene, which hit Connecticut on Aug. 27-28.