May 9, 2012
STORM RESPONSE LEGISLATION PASSED
Holds Utilities Accountable for Power Restoration Efforts
In the aftermath of the October Nor’easter and Tropical Storm Irene that left much of the state without power, the House of Representatives passed sweeping reforms in a unanimous vote today to better prepare for future severe storms and avoid wide-spread and lengthy loss of utility service.
SB 23, which first passed the State Senate on May 5, incorporates the recommendations of last year’s Two Storm Panel to invest in critical infrastructure and hold utility companies accountable for their performance during emergencies. The bill is now before the Governor for his signature.
“By making smart investments in critical infrastructure now, we can build a foundation for dealing with major storms so that the massive and prolonged power outages that crippled the state last year never happen again,” said Rep. Michelle Cook (D-65th). “Our focus should be on high-priority sites around hospitals, police and fire stations, grocery stores, gas stations and nursing homes.”
State Representative Roberta Willis (D-64th) said, “We reviewed what went wrong in terms of how we prepared and how we responded. This bill creates higher standards for utility companies and better communication for state and local officials to respond to major storms.”
In summary, the bill creates:
Performance Standards for Utilities
Senate Bill 23 will require the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to study and then establish minimum performance standards for emergency preparation and response for each electric and gas company in Connecticut.
Following that, all electric and gas utilities will be required submit a plan to PURA on implementation of these standards. PURA will also study and establish separate performance standards for telecommunications utilities, including telephone and cable television companies.
Penalties for Noncompliance with Performance Standards
Noncompliance could result in penalties of up to 2.5 percent of an electric or gas company’s annual distribution revenue, approximately $25 million in the case of Connecticut Light & Power. The penalties would be assessed as a credit on customer bills, and would not be recoverable by the utilities through increased rates. In the event of service outages to more than ten percent of a company’s customers for over 24 hours, that company would be required to provide customers a credit.
The legislation would establish a $15 million micro-grid and loan pilot program to support local distributed electricity generation at hospitals, police and fire stations, prisons, water treatment plants and other critical locations. Funds will be allocated evenly among small, medium, and large towns.
Senate Bill 23 would also take steps to facilitate the undergrounding of power and telecommunications lines. In addition to the performance standards described above, the bill would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to notify PURA of any pending road work projects over five miles in length or located a commercial area.
Backup Generators for Cell Phone Towers
The bill will require all telecommunications companies to report to PURA and the Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection (DESPP) annually concerning their ability to provide backup power to any Connecticut based towers or antennas.
Clearing Roads for Emergency Vehicles
In the aftermath of last year’s storms, fallen trees, limbs, and downed wire blocked passage on many roads across the state became life-threatening when police, fire, and ambulance vehicles could not reach people in need of assistance. The Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, in conjunction with the utilities, DOT, DESPP, and municipalities, develop procedures to for road-clearing for public safety personnel.
Food Spoilage Program
PURA must also study and create a mechanism through which electric distribution companies would reimburse residential customers for spoilage of food or refrigerated medicine after long power outages.