State Attorney General George C. Jepsen charged Connecticut’s largest electric utility Tuesday with withholding key internal memos from investigators about its slow response to the October 2011 Nor’Easter that left more than 800,000 homes and businesses without power for as many as 11 days.
Jepsen petitioned the state’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority to impose new penalties against Connecticut Light & Power Co., arguing CL&P withheld internal handwritten memos, emails, and emergency worker log entries all tied to a prolonged response effort that drew heavy criticism from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other state officials.
Those documents eventually were produced, but only after an initial PURA investigation had been completed, according to a report released Tuesday by the attorney general’s office.
“As the restoration from the October Nor’easter proceeded, CL&P committed to the governor, municipal officials and its customers that it would restore 99 percent of all homes and businesses in each town it served by midnight on Nov. 6,” Jepsen said, referring to the storm that dumped up to two feet on parts of Connecticut on Oct. 29, 2011. “The documents produced are relevant to whether the Nov. 6 restoration projection was reasonable and whether CL&P knew that estimate was attainable.”Meanwhile CL&P countered that it properly responded to the state’s “thorough” regulatory review process, and noted it has taken several steps over the last two years to enhance its storm response efforts.
Jepsen continued, “CL&P’s failure to provide complete and accurate documents undermined PURA’s investigation. The company should be penalized for this conduct in a manner sufficient to deter it and others from engaging in this type of behavior in the future.”
According to Jepsen, among the documents released after the initial PURA investigation were:
- A handwritten note by CL&P’s senior official in charge of restoration in the hard-hit Central Division, dated Nov. 1, saying she provided a 99 percent restoration estimate of Nov. 9 at 6:00 p.m. if she received 20 additional crews.
- Handwritten notes dated Nov. 1, made by another senior CL&P official who surveyed area commanders for their 99 percent restoration estimates. The notes indicate many commanders projected restoration dates beyond Nov. 6 for the towns in their area, and as late at Nov. 9 for Hartford.
- An email, dated Nov. 3 at 11:59 p.m., from a CL&P day shift commander for the Simsbury area work center providing revised restoration estimates for a few towns in the Farmington Valley that were requested by superiors, while noting that they are “Quite the work of fiction…I took a swag [scientific wild-assed guess]…I don’t think this should be shared with any town official as it is not really a good picture of what we are doing.”
- Handwritten notes of the CL&P Central Division Commander from a 6:00 a.m. call on Nov. 6 noting that she had reported to her superiors that even if she received expected additional crews, many towns would still have 50 percent outages by midnight Nov. 6 and would not be 99 percent restored until as late as Tuesday, Nov. 8.
- A requested report from CL&P to the governor’s office of expected restoration times, sent at 8:49 a.m. on Nov. 6, which appears to completely ignore the projections reported at 6:00 a.m. that morning by the Central Division Commander and containing no restoration projections beyond Nov. 7.
- And handwritten notes of a senior CL&P commander working in the Simsbury area work center entitled, “Storm Alfred Restoration Observations,” which included the following: “[m]ore severe damage, widespread,” “[n]o acknowledgement of damage extent when providing restoration projections (mgmt. v. public goals)” and “99 percent for ea. town@ same time unrealistic.”
But CL&P issued a statement Tuesday disputing Jepsen’s charges.
“All of the information in the AG’s filing refers to the 2011 storms, which CL&P voluntarily provided to his office,” it read. “We will address these claims during the course of this proceeding. It is important to note that CL&P worked tirelessly with PURA during its investigation into the 2011 storms while at the same time implementing recommended changes. We believe we have strengthened our storm response since then and remain committed to responding safely and quickly to future storms.”
Shortly after the late-2011 storm, then-CL&P President Jeffrey Butler resigned and the company announced new administrative assignments to improve readiness for future storms.
Tuesday, Malloy commended Jepsen for his action and diligence. His office pointed out the governor’s “clear record of holding the state’s utility companies accountable. ” Spokesman Andrew Doba added that “The storm legislation he championed last session increases the penalties utilities face if they don’t meet enhanced standards and benchmarks for both storm preparation and response.”
An independent report ordered by Malloy concluded in early December 2011 that CL&P was unprepared for the 809,000 outages it faced, noting that CL&P’s “worst-case scenario” plan offered little guidance for outages beyond 100,000 customers.
Witt Associates of Washington, D.C., also concluded that CL&P’s insistence that it could resolve 99 percent of outages by Nov. 6 — while the utility’s internal models showed 100 percent of power being restored by Nov. 9 — exacerbated community frustration with Connecticut’s largest electric utility.
A state study group formed by the governor echoed those findings one month later.
Tuesday, reaction to Jepsen’s report about CL&P’s behavior was uniformly one of disappointment — but not disbelief.
West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka, who was highly critical of CL&P’s slow response to the October storm, said he was not surprised to hear the company withheld information, but was shocked and disappointed at the depth and extent of what he called a “misinformation campaign.”
“I am somewhat flummoxed by the fact that they did it so willingly,” Slifka said.
Joseph McGee, who chaired the Two Storm Panel, said Jepsen’s findings confirm that that the utility handled the power outage repair estimates inappropriately.
“The company needs to learn a message here, which is: Don’t try and cover this stuff up. Just get it out. If it’s bad, it’s bad. Just let us know.”
McGee said CLP has done a better job with subsequent storms, but still has a ways to go.
Hamden Mayor Scott D. Jackson, who served on the Two Storm Panel, was philosphical: when something goes badly you have to look into it – not as a witch hunt or to point fingers, but to make improvements,” Jackson said. “The idea to create a better common standard so you are better prepared in the future. To withhold information in that kind of environment is disappointing and doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”