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Conn. lawmakers send storm response bill to gov

May 9, 2012 6:03:41 PM PDT
The Connecticut House of Representatives has unanimously passed a bill intended to improve utility companies' response to storms and prevent large outages like those seen last year following Tropical Storm Irene and a freak October snowstorm.

State representatives passed the measure 148-0 Wednesday, the final day of the legislative session. It now goes to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who said he looks forward to signing the bill into law.

"We can't know exactly what emergency is coming next, but we can learn from past experience and improve," Malloy said in a statement following passage.

Bill proponent Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, said the bill will help improve the resilience of the current storm response system by reducing the number of outages and enhancing coordination between utilities and state and local officials in responding to weather emergencies.

She said the measure will also improve accountability of utility companies.

Under the bill, state regulators will be required to establish new performance standards for electric, gas and telecommunications utilities regarding emergency preparation and service restoration when there's an emergency with more than 10 percent of any utility's customers without service for more than 48 consecutive hours.

Regulators must consider standards for minimum staffing and equipment levels for each utility based on the number of customers; targets for recovery and restoration of service; a communication plan between each utility and its customers; and assessments of each utility's ability to rely on mutual aid from other utilities in the region to restore the services.

Other standards relate to utilities' plans for tree-trimming, cutting and removal to reduce outages caused by falling trees and limbs; how a utility's call center is operated; notifications by each utility to state and local officials to coordinate response efforts; and safety standards for a utility's employees, mutual aid crews and private contractors. The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has until Nov. 1 to submit a report identifying the new standards.

If PURA determines those standards haven't been met, according to the bill, the regulatory agency can level civil penalties against gas and electric distribution companies. Those penalties cannot exceed a total of 2.5 percent of the company's annual distribution revenue.

The bill comes in response to Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm that resulted in large power outages across Connecticut - more than 1 million from the remnants of Irene and 1.4 million from the October snowstorm.

"We cannot let our state be crippled because of these future disasters," said Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold. "We need a better response from the utilities and I believe the bill before will better prepare us for these future emergencies."

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