Attorney General Seeks Penalties, Credits Over Eversource Response to Tropical Storm Isaias

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The Attorney General is looking for Eversource to face penalties and to credit customers who lost power during Tropical Storm Isaias and says the company’s failure to communicate and protect public safety was “imprudent.”

Tong made the argument Friday to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

“The evidence in this proceeding overwhelmingly demonstrates that Eversource yet again failed its Connecticut consumers in its major storm response,” Tong said in a statement. “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.”

PURA has been investigating how Eversource and United Illuminating responded to Tropical Storm Isaias.

Tong said that, at his urging, PURA agreed to open a contested case and prudence review, which he said are 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.”

Tong said in his brief that Eversource’s failures caused severe harm, that 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; and residents dependent on wells did not have running water.

Tricia Taskey Modifica, a spokesperson for Eversource, said the company made "tremendous effort" during the restoration and mobilized a massive team of line and tree crews from across the country and Canada to restore power. 

“This was the second biggest storm in the state’s history and you had 22,000 damage locations that you need to get eyes on," Craig Hallstrom, Eversource President of Electric Operations said.

“This was a natural disaster, this was a big event, we try very very hard to make sure things like that don’t happen and unfortunately things like that do happen. We can’t be everywhere at once," he added.

Tong argues that Eversource communications were overloaded, including its texting platform, mobile app, website, and call center.

He said customers paid for $23.7 million in upgrades to communications systems that showed marginal, if any, return on investment during the storm.

“It was imprudent for Eversource to spend—and continue to spend—millions of ratepayers dollars for a communications system that did not work,” Tong said in a statement.

Tong also said Eversource failed to appropriately prioritize public safety in how crews were deployed and Eversource’s liaison program failed to keep community leaders and municipal officials informed of storm restoration status.

If PURA agrees and find the Eversource response to be imprudent, Tong said, there will be a proceeding to determine penalties and they should include credits to ratepayers for multimillion-dollar investments in communications systems that failed to deliver. 

He also called for Eversource shareholders to refund consumers for their spoiled food and medications from Tropical Storm Isaias.  

Tong said that United Illuminating’s response was “not flawless” and the company “acknowledged its obligations as a public service company and accepted responsibility for any setbacks and challenges in storm response.”

He said PURA should “examine UI’s failures carefully and demand that they be addressed appropriately,” but did not recommend fines or penalties.

"While we understand Attorney General Tong’s concerns, it’s important to remember Tropical Storm Isaias caused unprecedented damage in Connecticut. Although it’s hard for our customers who were out of power for multiple days to understand the tremendous effort made during the restoration – we  mobilized a massive team of line and tree crews from across the country and Canada to restore power for our customers.  Every major storm poses unique challenges and can severely impact the electric system while at the same time, provide an invaluable opportunity to examine the effectiveness of our response processes and procedures and help to identify areas for improvement. We continue to work with PURA, other state agencies and community officials to evaluate additional opportunities to develop our storm response capabilities to their highest potential," Modifica said in a statement.

Marissa Paslick Gillett, chair of PURA, released a statement on Friday:

“We thank the Attorney General for his vigorous advocacy in PURA’s ongoing investigation into Eversource’s and UI’s preparation for and response to Tropical Storm Isaias. Having completed our evidentiary and public hearings in this matter, PURA is poised to receive legal briefs today from the Attorney General and other parties to the case. Pursuant to our investigation schedule, a draft decision in this matter will be released for comment on or around March 19, followed by a commissioner vote on the final decision scheduled for Wednesday, April 28. If PURA’s final decision concludes that penalties are warranted, PURA will move immediately into a penalty phase of the proceeding,” the statement says.

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