From Wilton Town Hall: Speak out on Eversource and Optimum
As always occurs following a major storm with widespread and extended power outages, Connecticut’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) and the State Legislature will hold investigations. I will join 168 other first selectmen/women and mayors from across the state to testify. We will all tell the same story of a delayed make-safe response leaving thousands of residents stranded, of Eversource crews sitting idle for hours waiting for instructions, of the lack of access to operations, of the failure of the outage-reporting system, of the frustration with Optimum customer service and all the other issues you all experienced and shared. We will continue to advocate for change.
Am I optimistic, these investigations and hearings will be sufficient to result in real change for the next storm? The answer is, no. For real change, we also need a grassroots, resident-driven effort that is active and ongoing. Think forced school regionalization and the success of Hands Off Our Schools.
Why must residents also become involved?
Eversource is regulated by PURA (Public Utilities Regulatory Authority). The three PURA commissioners just approved the recent large rate increase. It was only by residents taking action, raising their voices and contacting their legislators, that PURA is reconsidering the rate increases.
PURA reports receiving only 481 statewide outage complaints so far in 2020, only 123 outage complaints in 2019 and only 177 outage complaints in 2018 — the year of the big March storm. Eversource can justifiably point to those numbers and say there was widespread satisfaction with their outage responses.
Eversource leadership is Massachusetts, not Connecticut, focused. Although the number of Connecticut and Massachusetts customers are approximately the same, Massachusetts-based board members outnumber Connecticut-based board members 4 to 1. There isn’t a single board member from Fairfield County.
Eversource’s influence in Hartford is big. According to a recent Hartford Courant article:
Eversource and United Illuminating have 24 registered lobbyists, including former elected officials, their family members and advisers to past governors.
Eversource spent $845,055 last year and $457,571 in the first six months of this year on lobbying.
The article also details the personal and professional relationships between Eversource and current and former legislators and government employees.
Optimum and other internet providers like it aren’t regulated by PURA. Optimum is now owned by a foreign conglomerate with no accountability to Connecticut. The Federal Communications Commission has abandoned its commitment to the concept of “locality” in media regulations, as demonstrated by the fact that Altice immediately moved all its operations — including News 12, our local cable news source — to New Jersey.
Connecticut’s 169 first selectmen/women and mayors need you. We need you to channel your anger into action. Organize. File a complaint with PURA about Eversource. File complaints with the FCC about internet providers. Join us in calling for the governor, the legislature and the attorney general to take action and pass legislation that will allow for increased accountability and consumer protections by Eversource and internet/cable and phone suppliers.
In addition to advocacy efforts, I will be working with town employees and the Board of Selectmen to better position Wilton for weather events. We will apply the same approach to tree removal as we applied to road paving. We will survey to determine the scope of the required work, then develop and fund a long-term plan. The scope of work will be too large to accomplish in one year. I will also propose an ordinance prohibiting the planting of certain trees within a distance of the power lines.
Thank you in advance for taking action.