When Mother Nature drops her hammer, there’s little anyone can do.
No company can prevent high winds or stop trees from being uprooted. No service provider can guard against the effects of tropical storms, hurricanes or tornadoes. When the weather turns bad, all any of us can do is find as safe a place as possible and hope for the best.
But Eversource’s failed response to Tropical Storm Isaias can’t simply be excused away as all the fault of Mother Nature. Reports have surfaced that Connecticut’s largest provider of electricity woefully underestimated the number of outages that would be incurred during Isaias — a number that topped out at more than 800,000 in the immediate aftermath of the storm. State and local leaders complained of communication breakdowns with the company, as did customers who couldn’t get a straight answer as to when they could expect their power to be turned back on.
None of that is the product of Mother Nature.
In Cheshire, Town Manager Sean Kimball provided daily updates for residents as to how restoration efforts were going. At one point, upon relaying the latest predictions from Eversource, Kimball commented that he would “believe it when I see it.” Such lack of trust is built out of frustration — the frustration of a local administrator looking for answers and getting none.
The Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) has already announced that an investigation will be launched into Eversource’s response over the last week, and it’s all but guaranteed that the utility company’s leaders will have to answer to angry state legislators who have promised to hold the company accountable.
Yet, if all that happens in the next weeks or months is that a few people lose their jobs or their lucrative salaries, then little will have been to done to address what appears to be a more systemic problem. Between August of 2011 and September of 2012, Connecticut experienced three major storms. Similar to Isaias, Tropical Storm Irene, a freak October snowstorm, and Superstorm Sandy each plunged hundreds of thousands into darkness and exposed just how vulnerable our electrical grid truly is.
At the time, politicians promised that those responsible for lack of adequate preparation and slow response times would be held accountable. More importantly, both state leaders and Eversource — then Connecticut Light & Power — representatives insisted that steps would be taken to better protect Connecticut’s energy infrastructure. Millions were spent on tree trimming and, when rate hikes hit local customers, they were told it was all in the name of making the state less vulnerable to big storms.
What did rate payers get for their money? Here we are in 2020 and Eversource reports that Isaias, a storm by no means as powerful as Superstorm Sandy, actually caused as much or more damage and produced more outages.
Yes, the state must look at what went wrong for this particular storm. But it must also address why this keeps happening, and what can be done, structurally, to ensure less damage and outages in the future. That might mean looking at everything from whether Eversource is simply spread too thin around the state to whether Connecticut should begin investing in new, innovative ways of delivering electricity.
No one will be able to prevent Mother Nature from wreaking havoc. But it seems something can be done to mitigate, not compound, future problems.