We are in the middle of hurricane season, though you might have been distracted from that fact by watching the parade of scorching summer days and their thunderhead attendants march across the state through July and these early days of August. But this week, way out there on the periphery of our weather awareness, Tropical Storm Ernesto was flirting with the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico and a line dance of low pressure troughs was getting organized in equatorial waters off the west coast of Africa. Hurricane seasons has not been forgotten by state and local officials, however, who are still smarting from the trauma of Tropical Storm Irene last August and the subsequent freak snowstorm of October 29, 2011. Each of those storms left more than 800,000 customers of Connecticut’s electrical utilities without power for nearly two weeks in some areas.
In an attempt to focus the attention of the state’s major power distribution company, Connecticut Light and Power, on its “deficient and inadequate” response to the two storms, the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority issued a decision and report at the beginning of the month detailing those shortcomings and promising that remedies, or the lack thereof, will be a factor in setting a rate of return for the utility in future rate hearings. In other words, a failure to fix storm-related policies and procedures will cost the utilities stockholders, which presumably affects the job security of CL&P’s top brass.
Meanwhile, a tree fell on Great Quarter Road. It was not a major disaster on the scale of a hurricane, but it could have been for the families whose homes were isolated and cut off on July 26 by a tangle of live wires and branches. Local emergency services were, for a time, unable to access those homes. Luckily there were no emergencies. The incident, however, showed that the communication problems that exacerbated CL&P’s response to last year’s storms are still in place. Once CL&P crews finally did arrive on Great Quarter Road, they neglected to inform the town that local crews could begin the process of opening the roadway, unnecessarily extending the vulnerability of the cut-off homes — a fundamental and potentially dangerous mistake.
If CL&P is still failing small tests of its emergency response protocols, we worry what will happen when another big test comes — as it certainly will. When a major utility fails again on the scale that CL&P did in 2011, it is not just going to be a blow to its stockholders — it will be a blow to the entire state’s economy as homes and businesses alike must sit, literally powerless, and wait for the utility to get its act together. We hope that wait is almost over. Trouble is brewing right now off the coast of Africa.