By SUSAN HAIGH Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ While the president of Connecticut Light and Power stood by his latest promise that CL&P customers will have their power restored by Wednesday night, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued his sharpest criticisms yet of the state’s largest utility.
Malloy accused CL&P of failing its customers by breaking self-imposed deadlines to restore power to hundreds of thousands _ most notably the promise that 99 percent of affected customers would be restored by Sunday night. He said he spoke several times on Monday with Charles Schivery, the head of CL&P’s parent company, Northeast Utilities, and demanded changes be made in how the utility is managed.
Malloy said the company has a large credibility with its customers and has failed to communicate with local officials. He said it appeared to him that CL&P “failed to understand the gravity of the situation” in towns that he personally visited.
“His company’s handling of this entire situation has been unacceptable. It’s taken too long to get power back on. There have been too many problems,” Malloy said. “And it’s time for him to change the way his operation is being managed.”
Jeffrey Butler, president and CEO of CL&P, said he understood the governor’s frustrations and the company was focusing on two of the hardest hit areas, served by work centers in Simsbury and Tolland. He said CL&P has decided to move two senior managers to those sites to oversee the continued recovery effort. There were 597 crews working in Simsbury and 661 crews in Tolland, he said.
Malloy said he was assured by Schivery that efforts would be re-doubled and crews were being poured into those remaining towns without power. As of Monday night, more than 37,400 customers were still in the dark, many for a 10th night in a row.
“This should have happened days ago,” said Malloy, referring to CL&P’s changes.
Malloy met Monday with Charles Fisher, vice president for preparedness operations at Witt Associates, a public safety and crisis management consulting firm founded by James Lee Witt, a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Witt Associates has agreed to assess CL&P’s and The United Illuminating Co.’s responses for the state, pro bono. A report, summarizing findings and recommendations, is expected to be submitted to Malloy by Dec. 1.
Fisher said the Washington, D.C.-based firm plans to look at the utilities’ restoration plans, the extent of training on those plans and to what extent the company used the plans, and how the execution of those plans measured up to standard practice. He said five or six staff members will be in Connecticut this week. They have requested documents from the utilities and plan to interview employees, officials and front-line workers. Witt Associates is working with the state Attorney General’s office on the review.
When asked how he planned to hold CL&P accountable for the slow recovery response, as he has promised, the governor said it will be through the state’s regulatory process.
“We can bring dockets and ask for things to happen with respect to how they conduct their business and what way they conduct their business and what they recover losses for, for instance,” said the governor, who said he presumed that an investigation of CL&P would uncover “some degree of malfeasance” and could lead to legal action by the state.
Malloy appeared more frustrated with CL&P than he has in the past, acknowledging to reporters that he purposely did not appear with Butler for his regular evening briefing because he did not want to appear as if he was vouching for anything Butler was saying. Malloy said he had been let down by CL&P’s promises for days.
“Time and time again, I received their assurances that they would meet that (Sunday) target,” said Malloy, who said it is up to Northeast Utilities’ leadership as to whether Butler should resign.
Butler said he welcomed both internal and external reviews.
“I think they will show, in many areas, we have strengths and I also know they will show areas where we need to improve on some of our weaknesses,” he said, acknowledging work needs to be done improving communications and coordination with some towns.
Butler reiterated on Monday that the nor’easter was more severe than the damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene. He said there were 831,000 outages at the peak of the snowstorm, compared with 671,000 customers without power during Irene.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)