Surge Protection? Homeowners Say Power Company Needs to Do More

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Tropical Storm Isaias knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers in Connecticut and caused millions of dollars in property damage. But for one neighborhood, the real damage happened when the lights came back on, and those homeowners say they have been left footing a chunk of the bill.

The list of appliances residents say were damaged by a power surge August 17 on Long Hill Drive in Somers goes on and on:

  • “microwave just fried”
  • “two refrigerators, air conditioning, heating”
  • “the washer, the dryer, the dishwasher”
  • “dehumidifier fried. Oven, microwave.”
  • “There was an iPad that was completely fried, it was only six months old”

“Took me close to a month to isolate every single item in my house. Water irrigation system, quite a few items,” Homeowner Ed Sawicki told NBC Connecticut Investigates.

The surge came around 5 a.m. A swath of five houses was hit by a surge when a power crew returned there for some follow up repairs after Tropical Storm Isaias.
Sondra LeCours said the repair work, and resulting surge, took her and her family by surprise.

“And immediately we jumped out of bed, because were like ‘Oh my gosh is the house on fire…and we saw that a couple of our appliances were like, smoking,’” LeCours said.

The cost to repair and replace damaged appliances, parts and equipment ended up costing thousands of dollars, in some cases, tens of thousands.
And these neighbors added, there have been unrecoverable expenses, including days spent waiting for multiple repair service technicians.

“The time involved here was just unbelievable amount of time, you know there’s no acknowledgment of that on their part whatsoever,” Kacie LaChapelle explained.

The neighbors say their electric company Eversource offered to settle their claims.

“My claim was about a $30,000 claim, so Eversource is gonna reimburse me about $20,000 , so that’s $10,000 out of my pocket,” Sawicki said.

Eversource has stated on its website these settlements are for actual cash value, not replacement value, so the age of the damaged property is factored in.
Eversource gave a statement on its damage claim policy without taking questions.

“We encourage customers to first contact their homeowners or renter’s insurance company. And then if a customer does decide to file a claim with us, a member of our claims team is assigned to that case and goes to work thoroughly evaluating the situation. While I can’t provide specific customer information, for privacy reasons, I can tell you that all decisions to approve or deny a claim are based on the facts, and if payment is issued, we follow standard claims industry practices, which includes any depreciation of items being claimed, if that.”

The homeowners said they don’t want to file insurance claims to make up what Eversource won’t pay, for fear it will increase their premiums.

And Eversource isn’t the only Connecticut utility that has a policy that pays actual cash value for damages and not always replacement value– United Illuminating pointed NBC Connecticut Investigate to their website, which states: “Generally if we are responsible, we will pay the repair costs or the fair market value of an item based on its age and condition. We will pay damage claims only when there is clear evidence that we were negligent."

It raises the question, is this fair? The neighbors in Somers have said this was the fault of a repair crew, not an act of God, and they should be made fully whole.
The legislature has appeared increasingly sympathetic to customers dealing with high power bills and lengthy storm responses. This fall lawmakers passed legislation requiring utilities to reimburse customers for spoiled food and medications after long term outages.

NBC Connecticut Investigates asked a pair of lawmakers on the legislature’s Energy & Technology Committee about how state utilities currently reimburse customers for damages.

“You depended on this piece of equipment. When you’re talking about a refrigerator, you’re talking about a freezer, especially during these times of COVID, and for someone to say, well, you know what, this is old, so we’re only going to pay you at this value, and they set the standards and the prices, it’s just unfair”, said Sen. Dennis Bradley, a Democrat from Bridgeport.

“Your time is money. Time spent shopping for things or waiting for repairmen so I do think, as we look at this issue going forward, I would not be at all adverse to examining this, and what is the responsibility not only of Eversource but of the other regulated utilities”, said Rep. Holly Cheeseman, a Republican serving East Lyme, and Salem.

At this point four of the five neighbors have accepted Eversource’s settlement offer.

Most have said three months after the surge damaged their homes, they need to move on, despite the financial hit they’re taking.

How Do the Damage Policies of the State’s Municipal Electric Co-Ops Compare?

NBC Connecticut Investigates reached out to all of the electric co-ops in the state and pulled the policies of the six municipal electric co-ops in the state to see how they compare. Below are the policies from four of the six.

Groton Utilities (comment from utility)

Our policy regarding storm damage is to work through insurance. Storms are consider an “act of god” and homeowners can therefore go through their home owners insurance to replace damaged property. If the damage is caused by faulty Groton Utilities equipment then the damage claim will go through our insurance. Additionally, some surge protectors, which higher end electronic equipment should be plugged into, have their own warranty that covers damage to connected equipment should a power surge, power spike, etc. damage your equipment.

Norwich Public Utilities (comment from utility)

We carefully evaluate any property damage claims from our customers on a case by case basis to determine the extent of our responsibility. Our goal is always to reach a mutually-agreeable solution with our customers in these situations. One of the benefits of being a municipal utility is that we can work more quickly and closely with our customers to resolve these issues, which are not too common for us.

• If we are responsible for the damage in a customer’s home or business, we will pay a claim once it is filed with and carefully reviewed by our Finance team.

• If the damage was caused by an act of nature or elements beyond our control – wind, downed trees, ice storm, etc. – we do not pay the claim.

• When evaluating a payment on a claim, we typically look at the ‘cash value’ of an appliance as opposed to the ‘replacement value’ and work with a Claims Adjuster if and when we need to.

Norwalk Third Taxing District (pulled from website)

SERVICE QUALITY AND INTERRUPTIONS. While TTD endeavors to furnish adequate and reliable service, TTD does not guarantee continuous service or warrant that service will be free from interruptions or defects and disclaims any and all loss or liability resulting from its failure to provide service or its inability to maintain uninterrupted and continuous service to the extent allowed by law. TTD shall not be responsible for any variation or diminution in service, abnormal voltage, or reversal of its service, except to the extent that such condition is caused solely by TTD’s gross negligence or willful misconduct. In no event shall TTD be liable for any indirect, incidental or consequential losses or damages of any kind resulting therefrom. TTD shall have no duty to regulate voltage and/or frequency beyond that required by the American National Standard for Electric Power Systems and Equipment, ANSI C84.1, and if the Customer requires regulation of voltage and/or frequency that is more refined, the Customer shall furnish, install, maintain and operate the necessary apparatus at his own expense.

OTHER EVENTS. Notwithstanding the foregoing limitations, TTD disclaims any and all liability for losses or damages due to any other causes beyond its immediate control, whether fire, explosion, flood, weather conditions, accidents, labor difficulties, conditions of fuel supply, the attitude of any public authority, reduction in voltage, rotational utilization of distribution feeders, scheduled black-outs, failure to receive electricity for which in any manner it has contracted, or due to the operation in accordance with good utility practice of an emergency load reduction program by TTD or one with whom it has contracted for the supply of electricity.

  1. PROTECTION OF CUSTOMER EQUIPMENT. The Customer acknowledges that computers, reproduction, X-ray, data processing equipment, electronics or similar devices can be extremely sensitive to power system transients or loss of voltage. The Customer is solely responsible for the protection of its equipment and should consult the equipment manufacturer for suitable devices to protect against these conditions. TTD shall not be liable for any losses or damage to the Customer’s equipment and appliances.

South Norwalk Electric & Water (pulled from website)

34.0 LIABILITY OF SOUTH NORWALK ELECTRIC AND WATER Electric service is delivered to the owner at the point of service. SNEW shall not be liable for direct, indirect, or consequential damages of any kind, including, but not limited to injuries to persons or property or otherwise, arising out of or that may be traceable to trouble or defects in the apparatus, wiring, facilities, and equipment or to any other cause occurring beyond the point of service. Liability, if any, for such damages shall be that of the owner.

37.0 QUALITY OF SERVICE SNEW is committed to providing the highest quality of regular and uninterrupted service, but does not guarantee continuous service. SNEW shall not be liable for interrupted, or irregular, or defective, or failure of service either direct, indirect or consequential damages of any kind resulting from any stoppage, interruption, restoration, storm damage, variation or diminution of service caused by acts or omissions, acts public enemy, a state of war, requirements of Federal, State or Municipal authorities, strikes, acts of God or the elements, accidents, terrorism, operating conditions or contingencies or other causes.

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