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State Senator

John Fonfara

Deputy Majority Leader

Representing Hartford & Wethersfield

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Contact: Dave Steuber
860-240-8616

May 5, 2012

Storm Response Legislation Passes Senate

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

In response to two powerful storms that struck Connecticut last year, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without electricity and telecommunications service, the state Senate passed sweeping reforms today to better prepare the state for future severe weather events and to minimize the resulting utility service outages.

Senate Bill 23 incorporates the lessons learned through last year’s Two Storm Panel to invest in critical infrastructure and hold utility companies accountable for their performance during emergencies.

“Last year’s twin storms caused great hardship for thousands of people, and exposed some serious shortcomings in our state’s utility infrastructure and preparedness for emergencies. In the months since, we have carefully studied what went right and what went wrong. This bill will put the tools in place to minimize the outages that do occur in future emergencies, and to restore power and communications more quickly,” said Senator Fonfara, Senate Chairman of the Energy & Technology Committee.

“When the next storm hits, Connecticut residents should not be left in the dark,” said Senate President Donald E. Williams, Jr. (D—Brooklyn). “If companies can’t restore power in a timely manner, we’ll hold them financially accountable for their failures. This bill takes the lessons learned from recent storm responses and will help ensure Connecticut residents’ health and safety are not needlessly put at risk.”

“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 Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney (D—New Haven). “Our focus should be on high-priority sites around hospitals, police and fire stations, grocery stores, gas stations and nursing homes.”

The legislation requires the Public Utilities Regulator Authority (PURA) to establish performance standards for all utilities in Connecticut, and specifies penalties for noncompliance. Utility companies must develop and submit plans to PURA by July 1st for service restoration in emergencies, and update them every two years afterwards.

The bill also creates a pilot program to facilitate the installation of microgrids—localized electricity generation—in key locations such as hospitals and police stations, and orders a study on the provision of backup electric generators for cell phone towers.

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 distribution company and gas company in Connecticut. These standards must address:

  • Minimum staffing and equipment levels for outage planning and restoration (linemen, technicians, etc)
  • Targets for recovery and restoration of service based on the proportion of affected customers
  • Mutual aid agreements with out-of-state companies to bring in surplus workers as needed
  • 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
  • Safety standards for employees of each utility, mutual aid crews and private contractors

Other standards as PURA deems fit to prevent or restore service outages Following the establishment of these standards by November 1st of this year, all electric and gas 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 other emergency.

The legislation requires PURA to study and establish similar but separate performance standards for telecommunications utilities, including telephone and cable television companies.

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, 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 a telecommunications service outage affecting more than ten percent of a company’s customers for over 24 hours, that company would be required to provide a bill credit to their customers proportional to the share of service not received.

Microgrids

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.

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 (DOT) to notify PURA of any pending road work projects 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.

Backup Generators for Cell Phone Towers In order to facilitate uninterrupted telecommunications services for private residents and government officials during emergencies, 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 during an electric service outage.

Upon receiving the first round of reports, PURA must make recommendations to the General Assembly on the feasibility, and if feasible, implementation of a requirement for the provision of backup power for all towers and 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. This became life-threatening when police, fire, and ambulance vehicles could not reach people in need of assistance. Senate Bill 23 will require the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP), in conjunction with the utilities, DOT, DESPP, and an association of municipalities to develop procedures to expedite the process of 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. The General Assembly will receive recommendations on any legislation necessary to create the program.

The bill now proceeds to the floor of the House of Representatives.

 

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Dave Steuber
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