By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The United Illuminating Co. was close Tuesday to restoring power to its customers in the greater New Haven and Bridgeport areas following last weekend’s damaging snowstorm, while Connecticut Light and Power’s president said he remains hopeful that most of his customers will get their electricity turned back on by Sunday.
CL&P President Jeffrey Butler said about 650,000 customers remained in the dark Tuesday evening. He said the state’s largest utility is wrapping up its patrols of the system and will soon be shifting to a greater focus on restoring power. Meanwhile, he said more out-of-state crews are coming into Connecticut every day.
“I know our customers are extremely frustrated. Unlike (Hurricane) Irene, it is much more challenging. It’s cold at night and in some cases it’s beyond challenging, it’s difficult for our customers,” Butler said at a briefing with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “We recognize the frustration.”
Butler said CL&P is still shooting to have 99 percent of those customers back online by sometime on Sunday.
Asked if that was realistic, given the damage, Butler said yes.
“That’s what we’re pushing for and I’ll bring whatever crews in as necessary, as they are available to meet that target,” he said, adding how there are fewer downed utility poles associated with this latest storm compared to the remnants of Hurricane Irene.
UI Vice President William Reis said 1,800 customers were still out of power early Tuesday evening and he expected that their power would be back on by midnight. UI crews will then shift to help restore power to CL&P customers.
Earlier in the day, Malloy said he was disappointed in the number of out-of-state crews that have arrived to help Connecticut restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers, saying promises of help following the nor’easter had not been fulfilled.
“We’re underwhelmed by the support that we’re getting from outside the state,” Malloy said. “We’ve been disappointed in the execution of some of the promises that have been made.”
Malloy called on the U.S. Department of Energy to intercede and the agency’s deputy assistant secretary said Tuesday that more assistance is coming to the region. He said 6,000 workers, managed by regional mutual assistance groups _ are “on the hook” to come to the region, not just Connecticut, to remove trees and debris and restore power.
“If you look at the outages in Connecticut, which basically equal the outages of all the other places combined, you really don’t have yet a fair distribution of workers, mutual assistance teams out here doing this,” said Bill Bryan, the DOE’s deputy assistant secretary. “We will be making some calls and making sure that we can get that adjusted.”
Bryan said local utilities have been overwhelmed, calling it “a tremendous undertaking” to restore power following a snow storm that pulled down countless trees, many still with leaves. Bryan said it will take longer to get power back up compared to the remnants of Hurricane Irene because transmission lines have been damaged. Only 13 of 29 downed transmission lines are back up and running.
He said the transmission lines must be restored before the distribution lines can be fixed.
“They have to get the transmission grid up,” he said. “If that’s in another area, outside of the region, that’s got to be up and running first.”
Asked for a projection as to when power will finally be restored in Connecticut, Malloy and Bryan did not give a specific date.
“I don’t think it’s going to be weeks. Some folks, maybe,” said Bryan. He said once more out-of-state crews get in place in Connecticut, the restoration numbers will jump rapidly.
Earlier in the day, Katie Blint, a spokeswoman for CL&P, said 570 crews from other power companies were helping the utility’s 200 regular crews Tuesday, and the total number of crews was expected to hit 1,200 by the end of the week. But some customers, she said, may not see their power back until next week.
“We’ve had to go to as many as 15 states to request crews,” Blint said. “We certainly understand the hardship this is causing and we’re doing our best out there.”
Butler discounted reports that out-of-state crews were slow to come to Connecticut because some hadn’t been paid yet for helping out with Irene. Butler said he learned that one firm that represents three companies is in question. He said invoices to two of the companies were paid on Monday and the third would be paid on Wednesday. He said CL&P followed its usual process and reviewed the expenditures before paying the bills. He said he was not aware that it caused a delay in help.
Also on Tuesday, Malloy confirmed that a fourth death is being blamed on the storm. A Sharon man died from carbon monoxide poisoning after his electric generator malfunctioned. Malloy said there have been 135 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning since the storm hit.
Malloy said residents can dial 211 to learn about area gas stations with available fuel. He said the number of functioning gas stations in the state was at 1,109 on Tuesday, up from 760 on Monday. He said more deliveries are being made. Meanwhile, 31 state roads remain closed. Malloy said he expects those will be cleared and opened soon.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)