Utilities estimate most outages restored by Monday or Tuesday

The state’s two major electric utilities set deadlines of Monday and Tuesday next week for restoring the bulk of their 358,000 customers still without power since Hurricane Sandy subsided.

Connecticut Light & Power Co., the state’s largest electric utility, with 1.2 million customers, estimates it will have 98 percent of its 250,000 outstanding outages corrected by Monday or Tuesday.

United Illuminating, which was still facing nearly 108,000 customers without power early Thursday, projected it would have at least 95 percent of all outages corrected by midnight Monday.

If these projections are met, both utilities would have most outages corrected about one week after the hurricane’s end. The storm subsided in the early morning hours Tuesday, Oct. 30.

“This is an estimate, it is not a guarantee,” Senior Vice President Bill Quinlan announced during an 8:30 a.m. briefing at the state’s emergency operations center in the Hartford armory. Quinlan, who was extremely cautious in explaining his company’s first restoration projection since the storm ended, noted that something as simple as heavy rains or strong winds could interfere with that projection. “There are a lot of variables in this.”

Defending CL&P’s decision to stretch its projected deadline over two days next week, Quinlan said the company still is being much more precise than most other utilities along the country’s Eastern Seaboard.

Many other utilities are offering non-specific projections relying on vague phrases. For example, Quinlan said, some pledge to restore power “no earlier than” a far-off date. Others are more precise with time, but speak only of assisting “the majority of our customers” rather than projecting a specific percentage.

“We do believe this is a challenging target we’ve set for ourselves,” Quinlan said. “To achieve this is going to require an extraordinary amount of coordination in the field. … If we can pull this off, in my view, this is among the best restorations in the industry.”

UI, which serves about 325,000 residences and businesses in south central and southwestern Connecticut, said at least 95 percent of its customers would have power restored by midnight Monday.

“We are proceeding full force to restore power to our customers as quickly and safely as possible,” James P. Torgerson, UI’s chief executive officer, wrote in a statement issued at 6 a.m. “Our damage assessment, safety inspection and road clearing crews have been working around the clock to pave the way for line and service crews to restore power.”

Torgerson said crews already have restored service to 92,340 customers who lost power during Hurricane Sandy, and as of 6 a.m. another 107,968 outages remained.

“While damage assessment will continue, we are confident that we have gathered enough information to effectively allocate our resources where they are needed most to restore power,” he added.

Both major electric utilities held off releasing restoration projections in the first two days after Sandy subsided, noting that their primary focus was on removing live downed wires and other safety hazards, assessing damages and restoring service to hospitals, police stations and other sites critical for public health and safety.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was critical of CL&P’s response to power restoration after major storms in August and October of last year, said Wednesday that he would continue to closely monitor restoration efforts this time as well.

“People who don’t have power are beginning to lose their patience,” the governor said. “Trust me, I get it.

“Let’s wait and see what [utility officials] say,” Malloy added. “And then please know that I’ll do my best to hold them accountable to the people of Connecticut.”

After CL&P needed 12 days — three more than projected — to restore all outages caused by an October 2011 nor’easter, the then company president, Jeffrey Butler, resigned. Butler had conceded that CL&P had struggled to secure the private contractors it needed.

And Northeast Utilities, CL&P’s parent company, announced a number of reforms, including the appointment of a senior vice president to upgrade emergency preparedness.

A study panel formed by Malloy concluded last winter  that CL&P failed to adequately prepare for a scenario that involved more than 100,000 outages.