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State Regulators Finalize Major Fines For Eversource Over Isaias Response

Tropical Storm Isaias snapped this pole and damaged a transformer on Arlington Road in West Hartford.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Tropical Storm Isaias snapped this pole and damaged a transformer on Arlington Road in West Hartford.

State regulators will impose the maximum allowable fine against utility Eversource in a harsh rebuke of how the company prepared for and responded to Tropical Storm Isaias.

In a final decision released Wednesday, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) said it would impose civil penalties of $28.5 million against Eversource.

It will also fine utility United Illuminating $1.2 million.

Isaias struck Connecticut last August causing widespread damage and leaving hundreds of thousands of customers in the dark — some for more than a week.

The power outages set off a flurry of backlash, ultimately resulting in the “Take Back Our Grid” Act, which among other reforms, allows residential customers to get bill credits and compensation for spoiled food and medicine after qualifying weather-related emergencies.

But it wasn’t just the state legislature that took action.

Utility regulators also stepped in to punish the companies.

In April, PURA announced it would reduce Eversource's and UI’s allowable profits. It also suggested future civil fines.

On Wednesday, those fines were finalized.

In a lengthy decision, PURA announced the civil penalties, which took particular aim at Eversource, saying the company failed to secure adequate work crews and communicate effectively with cities and towns.

“Performance standards for storm response directly impact public health and safety and, therefore, must be sufficient to serve as an adequate deterrent against future violations,” the report states.

While the language was sharp, state law blunted how much regulators could fine the utility.

According to Wednesday’s decision, regulators found that a penalty of $98.4 million would have been warranted. But state law at the time of Isaias capped the total amount the companies could be fined at 2.5% of their annual distribution revenues, which means Eversource will only be on the hook for a maximum possible penalty of $28.5 million.

“The Take Back Our Grid Act has since raised that cap to 4.0% of the company’s annual distribution revenues, which would be applicable to future events,” Taren O’Connor, a spokesperson for PURA, said in an email.

The fine will be returned to customers in the form of monthly bill credits starting next month.

When asked if it would pay the civil penalty, Mitch Gross, a spokesperson for Eversource, said the company was “still reviewing the final decision.”

“Time and time again our employees work tirelessly to restore power as quickly as possible and support our customers and communities when outages occur,” Gross said in an email.

“We cannot control the weather, or the damage that is caused by falling trees and vegetation when storm damage occurs,” Gross said. “However, our employees are relentless in returning to the field every time they are called upon to repair the damage and get the power back on as quickly as safety allows.”

UI, which regulators cited for communication failures in Bridgeport, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Both UI and Eversource were also fined for accident reporting violations.

UI was fined $61,000 and Eversource was fined $178,000. That money will go into the state’s General Fund.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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