Especially for Connecticut's two electric distribution companies. As you're well aware, almost two weeks ago about a third of the state had no power. No lights, no air conditioning, no refrigerators and no access to devices that let you work from home. It wasn't pretty for those 900,000 residents, but it was even worse for Eversource and United Illuminating.
After days of frustration with residents (aka their customers) and town and state officials not knowing what the plan exactly was and who was in charge of fixing what, Eversource broke its silence and their CEO appeared in several interviews where he elaborated on the changing dynamics leading up to that fateful stormy Tuesday.
Some say "too little, too late." Folks didn't want to hear the facts, they wanted to know the plan and when things were going to get fixed.
You might say that Eversource and UI were victims of the perfect storm. Connecticut and the rest of the nation has had a streak of bad luck. First, last spring, we were hit by the unknown and unstable COVID-19 virus. As folks learned how to work from home and shelter in place, word started going around that this was going to be the new normal for the foreseeable future. It might not be until 2021 that folks can return to their offices and not have to worry about being teaching assistants.
We then all experienced massive social injustice. An experience that left us with yet another emotional challenge. The legislature and Governor jumped into action and fast tracked major changes on how police should conduct themselves and how they will be held accountable for specific actions.
Then came the popular Fourth of July weekend. Folks began to chill a bit and tried to enjoy that comfortable cadence we wait all year for-the beautiful, hot and relaxing days and nights of summer. But troubles bubbled up yet again as a localized storm knocked out power to a decent amount of homes in the northwestern towns of Litchfield County. Eversource jumped on it, restored power and life appeared to return to a somewhat even keel, even as temperatures continued to break all-time records.
But then a planned, but not well publicized, electric rate increase caught consumers by surprise and the wheels started to fall of the car again. Residents began complaining about massive bills and some began seeking restitution-calling elected officials, taking to social media platforms and bombarding the electric distribution companies' customer service lines. Legislators were caught in the hot seat, since back in 2017 they approved policy changes that would allow for a major deal where Millstone nuclear power plant would get an above market 10-year contract that many folks said would contribute to massive rate hikes.
Many seemed to not realize that with most of Connecticut working from home, schools shut down for the year and the increased use of power-hogging devices that the average household electric usage jumped from 500 megawatts to 970 megawatts. With it being the second hottest July on record, those air conditioners were cranking full speed 24/7.
Not so fast! Tropical Storm Isaias began stirring up trouble in the southern U.S. and predictors said it would hit Florida hard. Nope! It changed course and rolled through the Carolinas, only to turn its temper to Connecticut. And by then it was MAD.
So why did I pick this topic to write about this week? It was a summer storm and-yeah-everyone was stuck in a bind. But the table turned on the electric distribution companies. I think the pot was already boiling. Folks lost a lot of food, some lost medicine and some lost work because, as has been reported, the companies missed the mark on preparing and knowing how hard Connecticut would get hit.
After more than 11 days, power was finally restored-but not without consequences. The Governor, Attorney General and state agencies handling electric issues all started to pile on Eversource and UI. Prior to the storm, many were seeking public and regulatory hearings to address the massive rate hikes. They then ordered Eversource to roll back their increase until the agency had time to regroup and relook at them. Folks criticized Eversource for handling the situation in a casual manner and for not providing folks with the answers they wanted. In their mind, the facts were in the perception.
This past week the legislature and the regulatory body held two different hearings. The one with PURA was very formal and detailed. After a presentation, multiple parties examined the companies' senior leaders, demanding answers to fit their perceptions. When that didn't come, the frying pan got even hotter.
On Thursday the Eversource CEO appeared before the Energy Committee and laid out the situation as he saw it. But again, perception was driving this train and folks were still looking for their pound of flesh. Even though Connecticut law does not require Eversource to make restitution, consumers and legislators are demanding rebates, rollbacks and additional penalties. They are looking for HUGE changes to the regulatory framework and some are even suggesting we breakup the regional grid management system.
Yikes! This dialogue will continue in the weeks ahead, during a tentative special session the first week of September and the 2021 Legislative Session. It's my guess that there will be HUGE changes, but to me the lesson to be learned here is that you always need to stay ahead of the 8 ball and be ready to act. Or you could have the table turn on you.