Wilton seeks sanctions as intervenor in Eversource hearing
WILTON — Outraged by Eversource’s responses to power outages, the town of Wilton has been designated an “intervenor” in an upcoming hearing about the power company’s actions following Tropical Storm Isaias.
As an intervenor, the town is allowed to submit evidence, put forward interrogatories, receive data and information files by other parties and intervenors, and file briefs. The town is also requesting sanctions and/or penalties against Eversource.
“In our intervenor status we will be providing testimony,” said First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice.
The hearing is being held by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) which is investigating the storm response from Eversource Energy and the state’s other utility company, United Illuminating. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.
Heavy winds from the Aug. 4 storm knocked out power for more than 800,000 Eversource customers statewide. In Wilton, 5,517 Eversource customers lost electricity — 73.25 percent of the town.
It took more than a week for power to be restored to all homes in Wilton.
Upon announcing the investigation, the chair of PURA said Eversource badly underestimated the threat of the storm by preparing only for between 125,000 and 380,000 outages, far from the actual total.
Vanderslice said she plans to join other town officials and mayors who will be testifying at the hearing. “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; and the failure of the outage-reporting system,” she said.
Overall, she said, Eversource lacked communication and coordination during the power restoration process. “Eversource did not coordinate with police as to where their crews were. DPW (Department of Public Works) was waiting for power crews and was ready to assist them, but no one showed up. Residents were frustrated with an inability to get information as to their power restoration,” she said.
Among the relief Wilton wants from Eversource is the requirement of a “Make Safe” crew to be installed in the town within a certain timeframe of a storm. The town also wants an operational person assigned to Wilton who can serve as a point of contact among Eversource, the town, and its emergency services.
Vanderslice encourages Wilton residents who had problems with Eversource’s storm response to consider forming a “grass roots” advocacy group in protest.
She pointed to the success of the citizens’ group Hands Off Our Schools. Last year, that group, which started in Wilton, held protests and traveled to the State Capitol in buses to testify against proposed school regionalization bills. As a result, two regionalization bills died in the state legislature, while regionalization language was removed from a third one.
“When residents take to the streets or take the matter into their own hands, legislators listen,” Vanderslice said.
Eversource generated profits last year of $411 million from its historic Connecticut Light & Power operations.
The town can also take a more proactive approach in preventing power outages through increased tree removal in certain areas where trees are blocking power lines, Vanderslice said.
“In the last few years, we have increased the town’s budget for tree removals, but we need to increase it even more,” she said. “We need to have a discussion about our priorities in terms of what actions we are going to take about trees in order to mitigate these situations,” she said.
More than 70 percent of Wilton is covered by trees, Vanderslice said, citing a report by the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG). “That’s a huge number of trees,” she said.
She suggested enacting a town ordinance that would facilitate the removal of diseased or potentially dying trees, and regulate the planting of new trees within the town right of way and within a specified distance of utility wires.
“If you plant a tree that can grow 40 feet high near wires, that could be a problem. While trees that grow 12 to 15 feet high pose no problem falling on wires,” she said.
She plans to work on a draft of the tree ordinance with Mike Conklin, the town’s director of environmental affairs and Planning Director Michael Wrinn.