Eversource’s failure to communicate and protect public safety in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias was “imprudent” and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority should mandate consumer credits and make all findings necessary to levy penalties in an upcoming proceeding, Attorney General William Tong argued today in a brief before PURA.
“The evidence in this proceeding overwhelmingly demonstrates that Eversource yet again failed its Connecticut consumers in its major storm response,” Attorney General Tong stated in the brief. “PURA should find that Eversource was imprudent in its storm preparation and response—most notably for its failure to protect public safety and communicate effectively. In the next phase of this proceeding, PURA should levy meaningful penalties against Eversource for these failures.”
Attorney General Tong intervened last August on behalf of Connecticut ratepayers in PURA’s investigation into the response by both Eversource and United Illuminating to Tropical Storm Isaias.
At the urging of Attorney General Tong, PURA agreed to open a contested case and prudence review—legal proceedings that enable the Attorney General to make the strongest possible claims on behalf of ratepayers and the state, to seek fines penalties and injunctive relief, and to oppose the utilities’ requests for profits and reimbursement of storm-related costs. PURA is the state’s principal regulator and the legal forum to investigate and pursue such claims against state utilities.
The Office of the Attorney General issued 58 interrogatories in the proceeding, questioning both Eversource and United Illuminating on all facets of their storm preparation and response.
Eversource’s failures caused severe harm, Attorney General Tong’s brief detailed. A wastewater treatment plant was left without power for nearly a week. A police station was without power for at least six days. A deceased person was left in a car for five hours, trapped by a tree tangled in electric wires. A family dog was electrocuted by a live downed wire a full four days after Isaias struck. Vulnerable residents were trapped in their homes without power. Those dependent on wells did not have running water.
Attorney General Tong’s brief examined notable failures across multiple areas.
Eversource “seems incapable of learning from past mistakes, to the detriment of ratepayers,” Attorney General Tong stated. Eversource communications were overloaded, including its texting platform, mobile app, website, and call center. These conditions were “entirely foreseeable,” argued Attorney General Tong, noting that Eversource failed in its stress testing to reasonably account for consumers who might use multiple channels of communication. Eversource ratepayers paid for $23.7 million in upgrades to communications systems that showed marginal, if any, return on investment during Isaias. “It was impudent for Eversource to spend—and continue to spend—millions of ratepayers dollars for a communications system that did not work,” Tong stated.
Make Safe Crews
Eversource deployed “Make Safe” crews tasked with addressing power line wires, downed trees, and blocked roads in the aftermath of the storm. The investigation revealed that Eversource failed to appropriately prioritize public safety in how they deployed those crews—addressing lower priority situations while roads elsewhere remained closed to emergency vehicles and residents remained trapped in their homes. A municipal official from Bethel stated: “Long-standing ‘make safe’ protocols were ignored in favor [of sending what] few Eversource assets were available to make ‘easy fixes’ where possible. This decision would have certainly made the recovery numbers look better, but by doing so created dangerous conditions that could have had deadly consequences.”
The investigation found that Eversource’s liaison program again failed to keep community leaders and municipal officials informed of storm restoration status. In certain instances, liaisons were thus only able to provide the same information that what was already available on the Eversource website, which was itself malfunctioning and providing inaccurate information.
Should PURA agree and find the Eversource response to be imprudent, there will be a subsequent proceeding to determine penalties. Attorney General Tong argued that those penalties should include credits to ratepayers for multimillion-dollar investments in communications systems that failed to deliver. The Attorney General again called upon Eversource shareholders to refund consumers for their spoiled food and medications from Tropical Storm Isaias.
While noting that UI’s response was “not flawless,” Attorney General Tong found that UI “acknowledged its obligations as a public service company and accepted responsibility for any setbacks and challenges in storm response.” While he stated that PURA should “examine UI’s failures carefully and demand that they be addressed appropriately,” Attorney General Tong did not recommend fines or penalties for UI.