NU chief vows emergency response reforms won’t wait for Butler’s successor

Northeast Utilities won’t wait until it has replaced Jeffrey D. Butler as president of Connecticut Light & Power Co. to begin upgrading its storm response capabilities, NU’s top executive pledged Thursday.

The state’s largest electric utility also will begin exploring possible upgrades to its strategic, maintenance and communication functions even as awaits a preliminary independent assessment.

“We’re not putting ourselves in a caretaker position,” NU President and Chief Executive Officer Charles W. Shivery told The Connecticut Mirror during a telephone interview Thursday, less than two hours after he announced Butler’s resignation from the top post at NU’s Connecticut subsidiary.

James Muntz, a top administrator with CL&P for the past decade, was named acting president Thursday while a national search for Butler’s permanent successor is launched.

“We fully expect Jim to look at and make changes,” Shivery said, adding that the acting CEO is well-positioned to hit the ground running. Having initially led customer operations, Muntz later became president of the transmission group, overseeing construction of a major transmission line project along the shoreline. “He has demonstrated not only significant operating abilities and construction abilities, but overall senior management capabilities,” Shivery said.

The utility retained Davies Consulting Inc., a Maryland-based strategy and management consulting firm specializing in energy and health care, to assess CL&P’s response to both storms. A preliminary report is due by the first week in January.

“I think we’re going to learn a lot from that,” Shivery said, predicting that the final report “is going to go a long way.”

But like the search for Butler’s successor, the analysis by Davies won’t be an excuse to delay reforms, Shivery said.

“We’re certainly not going to sit back and wait a month,” he said, adding that Muntz also will be expected to closely follow other investigations ordered by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Muntz will begin Monday for Butler, who came under a hail of criticism from state officials over extensive and prolonged power outages that followed Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 27-28 and the Oct. 29 nor’easter that dumped more than a foot of snow on much of northern and central Connecticut.

Shivery spoke glowingly of Butler, but he declined to disclose full details behind the departure.

“We reluctantly accepted Jeff’s resignation,” Shivery wrote in a company statement, and repeated several times during his interview with The Mirror. “His commitment and dedication on behalf of our company, employees and customers have been exceptional.”

But Shivery also declined to say whether he had asked Butler for his resignation. “Mr. Butler, I think, appreciated it was going to be challenging for him to go forward” as CL&P president, Shivery said.

Butler, who did not issue any public statements Thursday, was criticized by some legislators as being guarded and evasive at times during media briefings on power outages.

“Everybody in this organization, including Jeff Butler, worked extremely hard to bring back the power for our customers,” Shivery said when asked about Butler’s communications style. “We’ve acknowledged there were some areas we could do better in.”

Butler had said repeatedly in the aftermath of both storms that it was their unprecedented intensity, and the correspondingly unmatched damage they caused, that were the chief culprits behind the prolonged delays. Shivery validated that argument during Thursday’s interview.

“We had two very unprecedented storms within a couple months,” Shivery said. “You can look around the state of Connecticut and see the areas of devastation. It takes a certain amount of time” to respond to that.

At the peak, outages after the Oct. 29 storm totaled 831,000 or 69 percent of CL&P’s 1.2 million customer base, and it took nearly 13 days to resolve them all. Irene caused 671,000 outages, and CL&P needed nine days to correct them.

Butler said that the company also created a new position specifically to oversee emergency preparedness. Senior Vice President William Quinlan will work with state and local officials to ensure that CL&P is “the most active partner possible” in responding to future emergencies, Shivery said.