Malloy: CL&P came ‘reasonably close’ on Thursday’s outage repair goal

Connecticut Light and Power Co. didn’t precisely hit its power outage restoration goal for Thursday morning, but came “reasonably close” enough, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said during a briefing at the state armory.

But the governor, who said he would continue to hold the state’s largest electric utility to its daily restoration goals, also announced that state utility regulators should revisit a 2008 decision that set minimum maintenance staffing levels for CL&P.

CL&P President and CEO Jeffrey Butler had said Wednesday evening, when roughly 530,000 customers were without power, that this total would be whittled down to 425,000 by morning.

Malloy said the company actually reached the 425,000-customer mark by 8 a.m. But it then had to temporarily shut off power for about 7,000 customers to accommodate repair work being done to bring another segment of residences and businesses back online. This elevated the outage total to 432,000 when the briefing began at 8:30 a.m.

“It’s not exactly where I thought they’d be or where they said they’d be, but it is reasonably close,” the governor said. “I’m holding them accountable to the benchmarks they set.”

The beleaguered Butler, who has acknowledged the company has struggled to bring in additional private crews from out of state to assist with the restoration effort, set a new target of 300,000 or fewer outages by 8:30 a.m. Friday.

The utility executive added that CL&P’s efforts to increase the work force have been more successful in recent days, and 1,479 crews — mostly two-person teams — were working on tree removal and line repairs as of Thursday morning.

“We recognize the significant impact this storm has had on everyone,” he said. “This has had a major impact on people, their lives, their families.”

As of 9:40 a.m. Thursday, the company’s website was reporting 430,729 outages. 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 1 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.

The governor Wednesday did not rule out a new proposal by two House Democratic leaders dissatisfied with CL&P’s response to date. Speaker Christopher G. Donovan of Meriden and Energy and Technology Committee Co-chairwoman Vickie O. Nardello of Prospect called for state government to set new, more detailed standards for mass outage response, regular reviews, and fines that could reach into the millions of dollars for utilities in noncompliance.

“I agree that we should be looking at that, but the discussions we have to have can wait until we get more of our people back on line,” Malloy said Thursday, reminding reporters that he also directed a gubernatorial panel studying response efforts after August’s Tropical Storm Irene to review the latest storm response as well.

But the governor did reach one conclusion Thursday morning regarding CL&P.

Malloy noted that CL&P’s regular maintenance staffing levels, which last were set by a 2008 ruling of state utility regulators, should be reassessed.

“Obviously I think the (Public Utility Regulatory Authority) is going to have to take a look at that issue,” the governor said.

The levels set by DPUC are for regular maintenance, and not the greatly expanded work force needed to respond to major power outage events such as those created by this storm or by Irene.

For example, CL&P directly employs 204 crews–most of which are two-member teams–for line repair, but put 1,889 crews in the field for line work or tree trimming and clean up after Irene, augmenting its numbers primarily through private contractors.