CL&P warns it could blow another power restoration deadline

One day after failing to meet a long-promised power restoration deadline, Connecticut’s largest electric utility offered a new pledge Monday morning–and almost in the same breath warned it might miss that one as well.

Connecticut Light and Power Co. crews scrambling Sunday to restore power in the Farmington Valley and in Tolland County found both regions to be harder hit by the Oct. 29 Nor’easter than originally anticipated, CL&P President and CEO Jeffrey Butler said during Monday’s 8:30 a.m. briefing at the state armory in Hartford.

“Given the extent and complexity of the damge in the areas hardest hit by the storm, we may not be able to achieve this goal” of restoring power to 99 percent of customers in each of CL&P’s 149 service communities by midnight on Monday, Butler said. “Those areas were extremely hard hit.

The utility already failed over the weekend to hit its self-imposed 99 percent target in each community by midnight on Sunday.

As of 8:30 a.m., Monday, CL&P still had 4 percent of its customers, nearly 61,600, still without power.

A total of 91 communities served by CL&P had at least 99 percent of their customers with service. Another 24 communities had between 95 and 99 percent of customers served, while 14 had between 90 and 95 percent and 20 were below 90 percent, Butler said.

“It is extremely frustrating. We understand that and we are doing everything possible,” he said, adding that the company would not release any of its work crews until all customers were restored.

At the height of the outages immediately after the storm, more than 880,000 customers had lost service, including about 830,000 CL&P customers.

The state’s other major electric utility, United Illuminating, had restored service to about 50,000 of its customers that had lost service — in southwestern Connecticut — by the end of last Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who ordered his own independent inquiry on Friday into the Connecticut utilities’ storm response, announced Monday that officials from the  Washington, D.C.-based Witt Associates would be in state today to consult with his staff, and with Attorney General George C. Jepsen’s office. The AG announced late Friday that his office also would participate in the review.

Witt Associates, a consulting firm led by former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt, has agreed to conduct the review pro bono and will report back to the Malloy administration by Dec. 1.

The governor, who expressed skepticism at several points last week about the likelihood of CL&P meeting its Sunday deadline, made it clear Monday that he believes the utility’s response was insufficient.

The Witt Associates report will provide “tangible short-term solutions to fix what is broken,” Malloy said.

Butler apologized on several occasions last week and conceded early on that CL&P was struggling to bring private line and tree repair crews into the state in quick fashion to accelerate power restoration.

But the utility executive also insisted that his company performed well and that the major culprit simply was a storm of historic proportions. The Oct. 29 event dumped between one and two feet of snow on much of northern and central Connecticut, weighing down many trees that still hadn’t shed their leaves and causing extensive damage.

The governor also announced that 98 percent of Connecticut’s polling places for Tuesday’s municipal elections have power, but the other 2 percent — involving about 6 precincts — will have to be relocated later Monday.

“We will ensure that each town is in a position to hold elections tomorrow,” he said. “Everyone who is eligible should get out and vote.”