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State Senator

John Fonfara

Deputy Majority Leader

Representing Hartford & Wethersfield

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Contact: Dave Steuber
860-240-8616

March 27, 2012

Energy Committee Passes Storm Response Legislation

Bill sets standards to hold utilities accountable, invests in critical infrastructure

Senator John Fonfara (D-Hartford), Co-Chair of the General Assembly’s Energy & Technology Committee, announced today that the committee has unanimously approved legislation to improve the state’s emergency response to widespread power outages following severe weather events. He said that Senate Bill 23 will invest in critical infrastructure and hold utility companies accountable for their performance during weather emergencies.

“Despite recent summer-like weather, we said we would not forget the impact of the two storms this past fall, and this bill reflects that commitment. While we can never entirely prevent outages during major storm events, this bill will put the tools in place to minimize the outages that do occur, and to restore power and communications more quickly,” said Senator Fonfara.

Senate Bill 23 has several provisions, the first of which requires the Commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) to prepare a comprehensive plan, subject to the governor’s approval, for civil emergency preparedness both before and after a severe weather event. The plan must be fully integrated with related federal plans and will be carried out and trained for by all state and local government agencies and all public utility companies.

Performance Standards for Utilities

Senate Bill 23 will require the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to study and then establish minimum emergency preparation and response performance standards for each electric, gas and telephone company in Connecticut. These standards must address:

  • Minimum staffing levels for outage planning and restoration (linemen, technicians, etc)
  • Mutual aid agreements with out-of-state utilities and contractors to bring in surplus workers as needed
  • Safety standards for employees of each utility, mutual aid crews and private contractors
  • Targets for recovery and restoration of service based on emergency classification level
  • Communication between utilities and customers, including during non-business hours, and to notify the public of service restoration estimates and dangerous conditions
  • Communication between and amongst utilities and government officials
  • Tree trimming practices to reduce outages due to fallen limbs
  • Other standards as PURA deems fit to prevent or restore service outages

Following the establishment of these standards later this year, all utilities will be required submit a plan to PURA on implementation of these standards, to be approved by PURA and updated annually. Supplemental plans may be required following a future storm or emergency.

Penalties for Noncompliance with Standards
Noncompliance with PURA’s performance standards could result in penalties of up to 2.5 percent of an electric or gas company’s annual distribution revenue, or $20 million for each noncompliant telephone company. The penalties would be assessed as a credit on customer bills, and would not be recoverable by the utilities through increased rates.

Undergrounding Wires
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 to notify PURA of any pending road work projects either over five miles in length or located a commercial area. PURA would then review the possibility of undergrounding lines at that location, and make suitable recommendations to the relevant utility companies.

By February 1, 2013 PURA must complete a study on how to facilitate additional undergrounding of utility lines in the future.

Microgrids
The legislation would establish a $5 million micro-grid and loan pilot program to support local renewable distributed energy generation at hospitals, police and fire stations, prisons, water treatment plants and other critical locations.

Under the program, PURA may issue requests for proposals for an unlimited number of projects, within available funds. Priority would be given to projects with an expected completion date on or before October 1, 2012.

Backup Generators for Cell Phone Towers
In order to facilitate uninterrupted telecommunication services for private residents and government officials during severe weather, the bill will require all Connecticut telecommunications companies to report to DESPP annually concerning their ability to provide backup power to any Connecticut based telecommunications towers or antennas during an electric service outage. The department must then make recommendations to the legislature each year on any related statutory changes.

The bill now proceeds to the floor of the Senate.

 

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Dave Steuber
860-240-8616

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