Connecticut Light & Power Co. President and Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey D. Butler resigned Thursday afternoon as the state’s largest utility battles waves of criticism over its handling of nearly 1.6 million power outages from two recent storms.
Butler had 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.
“We reluctantly accepted Jeff’s resignation,” said Charles W. Shivery, president and CEO of Northeast Utilities, CL&P’s parent company. “His commitment and dedication on behalf of our company, employees and customers have been exceptional. We thank him for his important contribution to NU, CL&P and the community. We wish him all the best.”
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.
The utility — and Butler in particular — came under heavy fire from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy after Nov. 6, when CL&P failed to meet its self-imposed deadline for resolving the 830,000 outages caused when more than one foot of snow fell on much of northern and central Connecticut on Oct. 29.
Malloy is visiting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but his senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, indicated the administration was not surprised by the move.
“Governor Malloy made clear that he thought Northeast Utilities needed to address CL&P’s management issues, and it’s clear that process has begun,” Occhiogrosso said. “It’s also likely that there will be other changes on other fronts as a result of CL&P’s performance in the lead-up to and aftermath of the storm.”
The utility will begin a national search immediately for Butler’s replacement, while James A. Muntz, NU’s president for transmission services will fill Butler’s post in an acting capacity, Shivery said.
CL&P also has commissioned an independent analysis of its storm responses. The utility retained Davies Consulting, Inc., an internationally recognized consulting firm, to perform the review and submit preliminary findings by the first week in January.
Butler had been the face of CL&P in the weeks following both Irene and the Oct. 29 storm, regularly appearing at daily televised press briefings with Malloy at the state armory. Butler, an engineer by training, came to CL&P in 2009 after 27 years at the Pacific Gas and Electric company in San Francisco.
Butler’s standing with Malloy plunged on Sunday, Nov. 6 when the company failed to meet its self-imposed deadline for restoring nearly all of the 830,000 outages caused by the nor’easter. More than 61,000 residences and businesses, particularly in the Farmington Valley and in Tolland County, remained without power early in the morning on Monday, Nov. 7.
Malloy, who had stopped appearing alongside Butler during the briefings two days earlier, directed Witt Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based risk management firm led by former Federal Emergency Management Agency director James Witt, to conduct an independent inquiry into the storm response.
Malloy, who also had created a state panel to review the matter and endorsed an investigation launched by Attorney General George C. Jepsen, predicted that wrongdoing within CL&P would be uncovered before all analyses were completed.
“I presume we’re going to find some level of malfeasance,” Malloy said one day after the Nov. 6 deadline. “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.
“They failed by their own standard. I suspect they failed by the industry standard as well,” Malloy said at that time. “I think they have a gigantic credibility problem.
The governor specifically targeted Butler for criticism and hinted that he should be removed.
“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 10 days ago whether he believed Butler should continue as CL&P’s top executive, Malloy had added that “I think that’s a good question to ask” of Northeast Utilities, which is CL&P’s parent company.
Butler also absorbed a hail of criticism from legislators after both storms.
House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D Meriden and Rep. Vickie O. Nardello , D-Prospect, pledged earlier this month to propose new legislation next year that would allow state government to set power outage restoration standards and issue millions of dollars in fines if utilities don’t get the job done well and on time.
Nardello, who co-chairs the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, raised questions following Irene about whether utilities’ were devoting sufficient resources to tree-trimming — one of the primary preventative measures used to mitigate potential damage to power lines.
“CL&P was unprepared for this storm and failed to adequately respond to the needs of Connecticut’s residents and businesses,” Donovan said Thursday. “The issue is not one individual, but the company’s ability to respond in an emergency. We need a better and more appropriate response in the future and we look forward to working with CL&P’s new leadership to achieve that.”
Legislators and other state officials were not surprised by Butler’s exit.
“If you’re in charge of the operation and it failed as badly as it did then it’s hard to believe you can stick around for long,” said House Majority Leader J.Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, adding that Butler’s attitude during the press briefings didn’t help. “He came across as snarky, arrogant and dismissive.”
With the exit of Butler, Sharkey said much works remain for his confidence to be reinstated in the state’s largest utility company. “I would like to think if CL&P has any competence, they are going to take the lessons learned and make some changes,” he said.
Legislators said it was clear that a change was coming.
“It was certainly forseeable,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven.
“It was up to CL&P, but it was clear there needed to be major change,” Nardello said Thursday. “I’m hoping there’s going to be a total re-evaluation.”
Nardello said the legislature will be looking to set benchmarks for CL&P and other utilities to measure their performance after future blackouts.
Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams, D-Brooklyn, said, “It was clear CL&P wanted to turn the page.”
“The management changes at Connecticut Light & Power Co. announced today by its parent company, Northeast Utilities, are a significant first step toward addressing the problems with emergency preparedness, communications and customer service that were evidenced,” Jepsen said. “I am pleased that the company has acted quickly with a reorganization of senior management and the hiring of a consulting firm to evaluate CL&P’s preparedness and response to these storms.
Butler undoubtedly hopes the public is ready to turn the page, as well.
One result of his recent higher profile: According to WFSB TV-3 in Hartford, a security guard recently has been been stationed outside his 8,000-square-foot home in Avon, one of the Farmington Valley communities especially hard hit by the Oct. 29 storm.
Staff Writer Jacqueline Rabe Thomas contributed to this article.