On eve of inauspicious date, CL&P names new chief

Under fire for two prolonged blackouts last year, Connecticut’s largest electric utility named William P. Herdegen III, a 35-year industry veteran with a focus on transmission and distribution operations, as its top executive Monday.

Herdegen, who served most recently as a vice president of Kansas City Power & Light, succeeds Jeffrey Butler as president and chief operating officer for Connecticut Light & Power Co.

The announcement was made on the eve of the first anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, the first of two storms that caused nearly 1.6 million outages in August and October 2011, subjecting CL&P to a scathing assessment of its performance and eventually costing Butler his job.


William P. Herdegen III

“With a focus on operational excellence, customer service, emergency response and employee safety, Bill helped to drive significant improvements for Kansas City Power & Light’s customers,” said Tom May, the president and CEO of Northeast Utilities, the parent of CL&P. “We know Bill will bring that same level of commitment to Connecticut to ensure the continued delivery of reliable, safe electric service to our customers every day, especially during storms and other emergencies.”

Butler was ousted after the second of the two storms.

Herdegen will be responsible for the construction, operation and maintenance of CL&P’s infrastructure, as well as the safe and reliable delivery of electricity to its 1.2 million customers.

He also will be asked to spearhead several initiatives CL&P unveiled earlier this year to counter criticism of its response to last year’s storms.

CL&P more than doubled its tree-trimming budget this year, rising from $25 million in 2011 to $53.5 million in 2012.

It also set several other performance goals outlined in a report it commissioned by Maryland-based Davies Consulting, including

  • Conducting a systemwide training exercise.
  • Fully integrating computer databases. Better coordination between systems that track outages and those that control power flow through the electric grid could enable the company to more quickly stop or reroute transmissions, and thereby accelerate certain restoration efforts.
  • Revamping the Town Liaison program to improve communications and serve a broader geographic area.
  • Exploring opportunities to join new mutual aid societies, increasing the likelihood that repair crews primarily dedicated to utilities in other states could be mobilized more quickly and sent here after a major storm. Private contractors, particularly from other states, provide the overwhelming bulk of the response effort following a major outage event. CL&P has about 200 line crews regularly on assignment throughout the year in Connecticut, but more than 2,000 crews were working here during the peak of the restoration effort after the October storm.

Butler drew heavy criticism in late 2011 as he defended CL&P’s response both to an Oct. 29 nor’easter and to Tropical Storm Irene in late August, saying the company had done all it could when faced with unprecedented storm damage. The October storm dumped heavy snow on a full canopy of leaves, splintering trees and much of the power grid.

But the utility executive also had conceded in the days following the early snow that CL&P had struggled to secure private line and tree repair crews from out of state as quickly as it had hoped.

It took CL&P nearly 13 days to restore power to all of the 831,000 customers — 70 percent of its entire 1.2 million customer base — following the October storm. And it took nine days before power had been restored to all of the 671,000 residences and businesses that lost power on Aug. 27 and 28.

Herdegen led several improvements to the Kansas City utility’s storm response plan that led to their ranking as one of the best in the country by CUBIC, a contractor for the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, according to Northeast Utilities.

NU added in a written release that Herdegen “also helped the company achieve top-quartile reliability for the past nine years along with tier-one customer satisfaction ratings from JD Power & Associates, and contributed to vast improvements in the utility’s safety record.”

Herdegen began his utilities career in Chicago, working for over 20 years with Unicom, now Exelon. In his last post at Kansas City Power & Light, he oversaw maintenance, dispatch, engineering and related operations for more than 800,000 customers.

The new CL&P chief holds a master’s in business administration from the University of Chicago and a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois.

Herdegen will join CL&P on Sept. 11 and will report directly to Lee Olivier, NU’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.