Storm highlights decades of repeat issues

? A storm hits Connecticut and causes hundreds of thousands to lose power. Utility companies take a week or longer to restore it. Public outrage leads to state investigations. Officials order service improvements.

It’s a cycle that repeats itself in the Land of Steady Habits. The problems that arose after the freak October snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene in August are similar to ones that cropped up after other major storms dating to Hurricane Gloria in 1985, an Associated Press review of state regulatory reports shows.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, legislators and other state officials say it’s time to finally fix long-standing problems such as utilities not being quick enough in bringing in out-of-state crews, inadequate tree trimming and poor communication with government officials after storms. They also want to hold utilities more responsible for performance troubles, possibly by issuing fines.

“Our state was hit twice in a short period of time by devastating weather events that created a lot of havoc and revealed vulnerabilities that should have been addressed years, if not decades, ago,” Malloy said.

Power outages are expected during any big storm. But electricity company officials say the October storm and Irene were highly unusual, historic events that caused unprecedented damage to trees and wires, making the cleanup and power restoration much more difficult and time-consuming compared with other storms.

The Oct. 29-30 storm downed scores of trees and utility wires, leaving 3 million homes and businesses in the Northeast without power. Hardest hit was Connecticut, where a state record of 850,000 outages was set only two months after Tropical Storm Irene caused a then-record 830,000 power failures.

Many utility customers went more than a week without power after both storms. Government officials and outraged residents called for having more crews in place ready to work before storms hit and better tree trimming. They also wanted the state’s largest utility, Connecticut Light & Power Co., to improve how it shares information about restoration work with local officials and to provide better estimates of when the power will be back on.

But it’s not the first time Connecticut residents have heard such promises.

Gloria hit New England on Sept. 27, 1985, knocked out power to more than 700,000 Connecticut utility customers at its peak and left many in the dark for a week or longer.

After investigating the response to Gloria, the state Department of Public Utility Control asked both CL&P and The United Illuminating Co., which serves the Bridgeport and New Haven areas, to improve communications. Government officials had complained they were not getting accurate information about power restoration work fast enough. Tree-trimming programs were also questioned.

A year after Gloria, another storm caused nearly 220,000 outages in the state. A DPUC investigation found problems at CL&P including slow dispatching of damage assessment crews, inaccurate damage assessment and inaccurate estimates of when power would be restored.

After those two storms, regulators launched a broader investigation of the adequacy of the utilities’ systems. That probe resulted in a landmark report in 1988 that included a host of new reporting requirements for both companies that still stand today.