Committee Weighs Options for Storm Response
The legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee this week received numerous comments on proposals aimed at making sure electric service is more quickly restored following highly disruptive storms like those in 2011 that left many Connecticut residents and businesses without power for more than a week.
Among the bills being considered are a proposal from the governor (SB 23) and a committee bill (HB 5544) that overlap in some respects and may be combined to some degree as the legislative session moves toward adjournment on May 9.
Both the governor’s bill and the committee bill call for the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) to establish performance standards designed to ensure a better response to power outages during emergency circumstances.
Standards would address issues such as staffing levels, training, tree-trimming and better communication and coordination among utilities, customers, municipalities, state agencies, service vendors, and the state emergency response center.
Each proposal includes stiff penalties if utilities do not meet the standards, but the committee’s bill is more punitive and less focused on the issue of electrical restoration. For example, HB 5544 seeks reductions in executives’ compensation if the standards are not met.
CBIA supports reasonable and achievable standards that are directly tied to improving electric reliability; executive compensation is already reviewed by state regulators and should not be included in the performance standards.
Such an intrusion will dissuade top talent from coming to Connecticut, exactly what we don’t want to happen.
Both bills also call for new grant and loan programs to encourage the development of energy micro grids to keep power running for hospitals, police and fire stations, and commercial facilities that provide basic necessities–such as gas stations and grocery stores–even if they are located within a larger region that has lost power. It's best to approach micro grids through a pilot initiative as they can be very expensive and there is still much to be learned about the most efficient and effective way to use them.
There are also two major differences in the scope of the two bills.
First, the committee bill (HB 5544) contains several provisions to encourage placing utility lines underground, including:
- Authorizing towns to establish special taxing districts
- Requiring utilities to provide cost comparisons for above- and below- ground connection in newly constructed buildings
- Requiring the Department of Transportation and municipalities to notify PURA of projects that provide the opportunity for locating public service utilities below ground.
While strengthening the state’s electricity infrastructure is important, so too is the need to keep energy costs in mind.
Second, the committee bill seeks to impose additional regulatory burdens and substantial penalties on telephone and telecommunication companies.
CBIA testified that such actions are ill-advised in part because these companies are prohibited from physically accessing their infrastructure until electric utility repairs are made.
Therefore, penalizing telephone and telecommunication companies for performance issues that are outside of their control would be unfair. What’s more, these companies are already subject to heavy regulatory oversight on such matters and have extensive emergency capabilities to maintain operations in the event of electric infrastructure failures, including back-up generation and mobile satellite communication vehicles.
Many businesses and residents suffered during the storms of 2011. Public officials must review the procedures and capabilities of our electric utilities to see that all reasonable measures are taken to ensure a better response to future emergencies.
What makes good sense is a legislative response that focuses on reducing the likelihood of similar disruptions in the future (such as more effective tree-trimming near power lines as well as piloting infrastructure hardening such as micro grids) and making sure the resources (adequate training, staff, coordination and communication) are in place to more quickly respond to such emergencies when they do happen.
However, lawmakers should reject measures that personalize blame through compensation reductions or broadening the scope of the bill beyond electric reliability.
For more information, contact CBIA’s Eric Brown at 860.244.1926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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