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AG wants reimbursements for poor response to power outage

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s attorney general asked regulators Wednesday to order reimbursements for utility customers who lost food and medicine during August’s dayslong power outage in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias.

Attorney General William Tong spoke as the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority opened several days of hearings as it investigates how electric utilities Eversource and United Illuminating responded to the storm, which left hundreds of thousands of state residents in the dark, many for over a week.

“Families were already struggling to pay for groceries,” Tong said. “They watched their food and prescriptions spoil. Many lost water, creating unsanitary conditions and I think all of us can thank God that this did not happen in winter.”

Municipal officials criticized Eversource for failing to send crews to many affected cities and towns for days. They said the power company did not answer or return calls needed to coordinate the restoration effort with local crews trying to clear roads and remove downed trees, most of which were entangled in power lines.

“This is worse than irresponsible, this is worse than negligent,” said Stamford Mayor David Martin, a Democrat. “Eversource made deliberate decisions that jeopardized the life-safety of Stamford residents.”

Only a handful of members of the public spoke during the Zoom call, including Barbara Geddis Wooten, of Wilton, who said her family was trapped without power and therefore a well pump for over a week, while their street was blocked by fallen trees.

“We had no water for drinking. We had no water for bathing. We had no water for cooking,” she said.

She asked PURA to force Eversource to give customers three free months of electricity, reimburse them for lost food and revoke recent rate hikes.

Earlier this month, Gov. Ned Lamont signed legislation designed to ensure that the power companies’ earnings and profits are tied to good performance. It also allows for customers to be reimbursed for spoiled food amid extensive service disruptions. But Tong said that law likely can’t be applied retroactively.

Eversource CEO Jim Judge told state legislators in August that the the company was well-prepared for the storm. He said Eversource has made numerous improvements over the years that have resulted in improved service and reliability.

Company spokesperson Mitch Gross, said Wednesday that Eversource understands the hardships its customers endured during Isaias and welcomes the feedback.

“Every major storm poses unique challenges for our customers and provides us with the invaluable opportunity to examine our emergency response processes and procedures,” he said.

The public will be given another chance to speak when the hearing resumes Thursday morning. Marissa Gillett, PURA’s chair, said the regulators also are taking written testimony and have already heard from nearly 1,000 utility customers.

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Dave Rinelli

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