At a time when Connecticut is turning the corner and showing the promising results of a steady recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we get hit with another type of adversity, Tropical Storm Isaias.
While nobody can prevent weather events from causing damage to the systems we rely on, we do expect to have a strong infrastructure in place to deal with the aftermath of a storm.
For the better part of a decade, every major storm or weather event has produced widespread and prolonged power outages. And after every storm, the utility companies claim to have learned their lesson. But their record of performance tells a different story. In a repeat of previous events, people were still without power more than a week after Storm Isaias.
The legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee will be looking at a few policy concepts, in order to address the failures and the inadequate handling that we have suffered as a result of Storm Isaias. Some of those ideas include having utility companies offer bill credits to residential customers without power for more than a specified period and compensating customers for medication and food that may have been lost or damaged due to prolonged power outages.
In addition, utility companies have outsourced their grid management for a decade. It is time we take a hard look at implementing minimum in-state direct payroll staffing requirements and require the utilities to bring back shuttered regional emergency operation centers. And we must work on wholesale reform of the utility structure in Connecticut to decrease risk on the ratepayers.
Given the outrageous compensation of their top executives and healthy profits, one would think that the utilities are capable of managing and delivering on their core mission of reliable service. Clearly, that is not the case and ratepayers across the state have continued to pay the price. Reliable service is not optional — prolonged absence of power can mean the difference between life and death for many who cannot go without operational medical equipment and refrigeration of prescriptions.
That has brought us to the present — we must band together and focus on empowering our regulators to hold these monopolies accountable, and to provide meaningful pathways for Connecticut residents and businesses to engage in shaping our future energy landscape.
We can no longer tolerate allowing electric distribution companies to operate with a culture that does not value and protect the critical grid and powerline service workers and puts shareholder returns and executive compensation over customer and ratepayer needs.
With the winter season looming, Connecticut’s utility companies must step up and take the necessary measures to be able to manage the potential of a new storm.
Our ratepayers deserve a reliable utility service with competent oversight that is ready to respond to any adverse event. Connecticut deserves better.
State Rep. David Arconti, D-Danbury, is chairman of the House Energy and Technology Committee.