How soon should a power company respond to a critical “power lines down” incident?
It’s a question NBC Connecticut Investigates asked lawmakers after our piece on what’s known as a “Priority One” call.
Leading legislators on the state’s energy and technology committee had differing approaches to prevent a situation that happened in January.
An elderly couple, both in their 80s, were piled inside a rolled over sedan for more than an hour on Route 44 in Norfolk, waiting for an Eversource crew to de-energize and remove power lines on top of their vehicle. Firefighters say a Priority One call response usually takes under a half hour.
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“There has to be another way to address the situation," Norfolk Fire Chief Matt Ludwig said.
We showed our initial NBC Connecticut Investigates report on this to Representative Holly Cheeseman and Senator Norm Needleman, both on our state’s energy and technology committee.
Needleman said he doesn’t want to pre-judge and awaits state regulators’ investigation of the Norfolk incident, noting though, that it may signal a personnel issue.
“The utility has to be able to respond quickly to level one, you know, requests from first responders, and not being able to dispatch somebody quickly enough is a problem," Needleman said.
Cheeseman said the cost of adding utility workers will likely get passed on to ratepayers…and mentioned another idea.
“I know we've looked at performance-based rate making and maybe we make those emergency response times part of that performance-based metric. Are you consistently responding to Priority One calls in 30 minutes or less?” Cheeseman said.
Downed Wire Delays in Norfolk
Eversource told us “…our trucks are not emergency vehicles so we can’t respond to calls like police, fire and ambulances do,” adding their crews are often up working on lines in a bucket truck and cannot drop everything.
At the same time, the utility said it takes every Priority One call with the utmost urgency and crews work to get there as safely as possible, standing by its Priority One response process and the number of crews it has to handle them.
“But we're always open to having discussions with our communities and our community leaders that we serve to have a discussion and determine if there are other things that we can do differently to maybe improve those things," spokesperson Tricia Taskey Modifica said.
The state's other large power company, United Illuminating, provided us with a statement about their Priority One response.
“Public safety is a top priority for United Illuminating, and the company implements a crew rotation that ensures the presence of multiple crews in the field at any given moment, allowing us to respond quickly to an emergency situation such as downed wires. While incident specific conditions, such as unexpected extreme weather, traffic or other travel restrictions, or multiple concurrent incidents can impact response time, UI works to respond to Priority One events as quickly as possible, and welcomes discussion with state leaders on strategies to ensure continued timely response to emergency situations.”