Malloy predicts ‘malfeasance’ behind slow response to outages

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy predicted his new probe of Connecticut Light & Power Co. would uncover “some level of malfeasance” in the utility’s response to the Oct. 29 snowstorm, and hinted that the company’s top management needs change.

“A monopoly is a trust with the people they serve,” Malloy said, referring to the franchise that allows CL&P to exclusively serve nearly 80 percent of all of Connecticut’s utility customers. “It is clear they failed that trust… I feel CL&P has let the people of Connecticut down.”

Malloy was referring to nearly 834,000 outages faced by CL&P customers because of the snow storm and company President Jeffrey Butler’s repeated assurances that 99 percent of all outages would be resolved by midnight Sunday. Butler withdrew that pledge Saturday and as of 6 p.m., Monday, 3 percent of the customer base, 41,540 residences and businesses, remained without power, according to the company’s website.

Further complicating matters, Butler said Monday morning that he was uncertain CL&P would meet its revised target of restoring 99 percent of all customers by midnight Monday.

“They failed by their own standard. I suspect they failed by the industry standard as well,” Malloy said. “I think they have a gigantic credibility problem,” the governor added. “There’s no one to blame but themselves.”

The governor announced Friday that he had asked Witt Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based risk assessment firm led by former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Witt, to conduct a study of CL&P’s response.

“I presume we’re going to find some level of malfeasance,” Malloy said. “Those responsible will be held accountable … and we will hold them to a very high standard.” He wouldn’t rule out legal action that could lead to financial penalties against CL&P.

“It really is about their capacity” the governor said, adding that despite repeated assurances, it became clear the utility could neither swiftly mobilize the crews needed to restore power promptly, nor effectively deploy and manage them as they arrived here. He specifically targeted Butler.

“His company’s handling of this entire situation has been unacceptable,” Malloy added. “I think it is time to change the way this company is being managed.”

When asked whether he believes Butler should continue as CL&P’s top executive, Malloy added that “I think that’s a good question to ask” of Northeast Utilities, which is CL&P’s parent company.

Malloy said he spoke Monday with NU President and CEO Charles W. Shivery, adding that the utility executive assures him that CL&P is “pouring crews into high-impact towns” to make it revised deadline.

Malloy said at least part of Connecticut’s response will come through the regulatory process. Though the governor didn’t mention any specific changes that might be proposed, the state’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority has both rate-setting power as well as the ability to approve utility spending on specific areas such as maintenance and emergency response.

Charles Fisher, Witt Associates’ vice president of preparedness operations, said his company, which is performing the study pro bono, will have five or six associates working in Connecticut this week, though they will be supported by company resources in other offices.

The study, to be completed by Dec. 1, will look at CL&P’s emergency response plans, related training, and how execution compares both with the plan as well as past company and industry practices, mutual aid compacts, company policies regarding hiring of private crews, cooperation with municipal public works staff, and communications with municipal and state officials.

Malloy said the Attorney General’s George C. Jepsen’s office was brought into the review to ensure Witt Associates would be able to secure the documents it needs from CL&P  to conduct the probe.

Butler insisted Monday that although his company could improve its performance, particularly in the area of communications, that in general it performed well. The single-biggest reason behind the prolonged outages, he added, was an autumn storm of historic proportions that dumped between one and two feet of snow on much of central Connecticut, causing unprecedented tree damage.

“I personally apologize for CL&P not meeting the needs of the towns,” he said. “But when you look at the magnitude of the storm, an unprecedented storm… I think you’ll find there were many, many things we did very, very well.”

Butler added that while his company would perform its own assessment after all power has been restored, “in many parts of the state we met expectations.”