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CL&P Head Butler Resigns Amid Post-Storm Criticism

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The embattled president and chief operating officer of Connecticut Light & Power, the state’s largest utility, submitted his resignation Thursday after coming under fire for how the company handled massive power outages following last month’s snowstorm.

Parent company Northeast Utilities said Jeffrey Butler stepped down on Thursday.

Butler was a familiar face to many frustrated CL&P customers, who watched him appear twice a day for televised briefings at the state’s emergency operations center on the utility’s restoration efforts after more than a foot of snow fell on the state in the days before Halloween. At the peak, CL&P had more than 830,000 outages, a record for the utility, representing about 77 percent of the company’s total customers.

Butler publicly promised that 99 percent of customers would have their electricity restored as of eight days after the storm. However, that pledge fell short, prompting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to criticize the company for its handling of the restoration efforts.

Malloy accused CL&P of failing its customers by breaking self-imposed deadlines to restore power. He said he spoke with Charles Schivery, the head of Northeast Utilities, and demanded changes be made in how the utility is managed.

Malloy had put together a special committee to examine the response by utilities, state and local governments and others after Connecticut was hit with the remnants of Hurricane Irene. He later expanded that panel’s duties to investigate the response to the October snowstorm. Malloy also reached out a private firm to review the response by CL&P and The United Illuminating Co., the state’s other major utility that dodged much of the criticism surrounding the last storm.

Malloy said it appeared to him that CL&P had lost credibility with its customers and has failed to communicate with local officials. When asked if Butler should step down, Malloy said that decision was up to utility officials.

However, Malloy did say he told Schivery that “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 also said that it was “time for him to change the way his operation is being managed.”

On Thursday, Malloy’s senior adviser issued a statement regarding Butler’s resignation, saying the governor “made clear that he thought Northeast Utilities needed to address CL&P’s management issues, and it’s clear that process has begun. 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.”

Butler received the brunt of public’s frustration over the lengthy outages, some lasting more than 10 days. He was lampooned on Twitter by a so-called Fake Jeff Butler, who jokingly wrote about the real utility official’s large salary and “gold-plated” generator.

Butler did not appear with other CL&P executives at this week’s meeting of Malloy’s “Two Storm Committee,” which is expected to present its recommendations in December.

Butler joined Berlin-based CL&P in 2009 after 27 years Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in San Francisco.

Northeast Utilities said it was undertaking a national search for his successor.

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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