Williams wants $50 credit for CL&P customers

Majority Democrats in the state legislature called Wednesday for Connecticut Light & Power Co. to credit customers as much as $50 to help compensate for the more than 830,000 outages residences and businesses served by the utility suffered during and after the Oct. 29 nor’easter snow storm.

And Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr. of Brooklyn, who specifically recommended the $50 credit, labeled the $10 million family and business hardship fund that CL&P pledged Wednesday to provide as “inadequate.”

“I understand the storm was not CL&P’s fault, but CL&P has admitted that their response could have been better,” Williams said. “Homeowners and businesses lost an untold fortune in spoiled food and missed business, as well as covering the cost of hotel stays, take-out meals, flooded basements and a myriad of other, unnecessary daily expenses. CL&P needs to do right by its customers and work out a fair and just compensation plan that can be applied to future electric bills.”

Charles W. Shivery, president and CEO of Northeast Utilities, CL&P’s parent company, announced the $10 million fund and several other initiatives early Wednesday to assist customers harmed by outages and to enhance future storm restoration response.

“I understand the hardship that this has caused, and I realize that we did not meet the goals that we set for ourselves and upon which many of our customers relied, and for that I apologize,” Shivery said. “We will continue to take action to meet our customers’, his and our own expectations.”

The $10 million fund would be administered by the governor’s office, Shivery said.

“The governor appreciates what NU has offered to do, and believes it’s a good first step in the right direction,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s spokeswoman, Colleen Flanagan said.

Williams said a $50 per customer credit, which would cost CL&P about $41.5 million, would be “fairer.” This would represent about 10.7 percent of CL&P’s $388 million in earnings in 2010, he said. The utility represents about 1.2 million residential and business customers in 149 cities and towns.

“As we participate in the many reviews of our storm preparedness and response, we thought it was very important to make this gesture to our customers, to the cities and towns we serve, and to the governor,” NU spokeswoman Marie van Luling wrote in a statement released Wednesday evening. “It is a gesture that we hope shows our commitment to assisting our customers who had their lives disrupted by this storm. It is a gesture that we hope shows our willingingness to work in better partnership with our cities and towns going forward. It is a gesture that we hope shows our openess to a comprehensive examination of our storm preparedness and response.

“Additionally, it is a gesture that we hope signals to the governor that we heard his concerns – loud and clear – and we are willing to work with the state and other stakeholders to make improvements.”

But van Luling did not comment on Williams’ proposal for a $50 credit.

Besides providing $10 million for an assistance fund, CL&P also agreed Wednesday to:

  • Waive late payment fees for its customers through the remainder of 2011.
  • Arrange flexible payment programs for those customers who experienced losses.
  • Provide residual tree-trimming and clean up assistance at no cost to cities and towns.
  • And pay for an independent third party firm to conduct “a more comprehensive review of the company’s preparedness and response to the pre-Halloween snowstorm,” and build upon the findings of an assessment already underway.

Last week Malloy directed Witt Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based risk management firm, to conduct a review of utility responses to the storm. That report is expected by Dec. 1.

Williams and House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan of Meriden also said Wednesday that lawmakers would conduct public hearings into utilities’ response to the latest storm. The legislature conducted one hearing in September to review responses to Tropical Storm Irene, which knocked out power to more than 765,000 residents statewide.

“We must be prepared for the next storm emergency,” Donovan said. “It is clear that our utilities, and CL&P specifically, are not prepared at the present time. When health and safety are threatened, and when business is disrupted to the extent it has been, we need answers.”

Donovan and Rep. Vickie O. Nardello, D-Prospect, the House chairwoman of the Energy and Technology Committee, said last week that would introduce legislation next year empowering state regulators to set tougher disaster readiness and emergency response standards for utilities and to issue millions of dollars in fines if companies perform poorly.