Representatives from Connecticut Light & Power Co. were in town Monday evening to talk about the company’s power restoration process. Instead, the meeting focused primarily on the complaints and concerns of West Redding residents.
About two dozen people attended the meeting, many there specifically to talk about the number of power outages in West Redding and the length of time it takes to restore power. The residents asked for a plan to fix the problem, for better communication with the company, and for more tree work, among other things.
Dominic Scerbo, CL&P’s strategic account executive for the town of Redding, was in the middle of explaining how the electric grid works — likening it to a tree with the roots the substation and the trunk the backbone of the grid with branches and feeders to individual’s homes (leaves) — when he was interrupted by a resident. When the man left the meeting, he declined to give the press his name.
“We are paying Fairfield County prices [for electricity] and have third-world services,” the man said. He continued, saying West Redding is always restored last and has more outages than the rest of the town.
“We never get a good reason why,” he said.
If a home is at the end of the grid, it will take longer for power to be restored, said Mr. Scerbo. The farther the home is from a backbone and substation, the more that has to be fixed before it gets to a particular home, he said.
“We have to make sure the electricity is safely fixed,” he said, explaining there is a system in place for restoring power along a line.
The unidentified man said, “This is not Pakistan. This is unacceptable.” CL&P should start at the beginning and “rebuild the whole thing,” he said.
“West Redding has the same risk of having outages as any another place in Redding,” said Mr. Scerbo. “There could be another spot as far from the trunk,” he said.
Len Berry of Picketts Ridge Road questioned why there were so many people on one circuit from the Peaceable substation (which feeds electricity to more than 90% of Redding) and only a small number on another circuit from the same substation feeds West Redding.
“We look at how loads are changing,” said Mr. Scerbo, adding this would be an assessment made by the company’s assessment management group. “We need to look at West Redding,” he said.
Throughout the evening as concerns were raised, he said they would be taken back to the proper CL&P group for consideration.
“The question is why are we on smaller circuits and not closer to the feeder line,” said Mr. Berry. He said West Redding is always last to get power back, by a few days.
A woman in the audience talked about a Dec. 22 outage that was caused when a tree went down on Umpawaug Road and took out two poles.
West Redding residents were told by CL&P that power would be restored in two hours, but some people were without power for 12 hours, she said.
According to Mr. Scerbo, CL&P sometimes has to take people off the grid for safety reasons “in order to restore the entire health of the grid.” He added the company operates on the basis of safety first.
Several in the audience complained that they were not given correct information when they called CL&P about power restoration.
“We want a plan to address this,” said Mr. Berry. He requested another meeting with the company so residents can understand why they are having problems and what can be done to fix them.
Charles Mullaney of Great Pond Lane said after the last big power outage, town officials reported that 100% of power was back on in the town, but no one on his street had power.” He learned the reason for his outage from a CL&P crew member, he said.
Reed Collyer of West Redding also cited communication as a concern. She learned the company does not know about an outage unless it is reported. She also cited an instance of miscommunication from the company.
Mr. Scerbo said the company does not know when a customer’s power is out if it is not notified about it by calls to 800-286-2000. After receipt of a call, crews assess the problem and report it to the company’s work center in Norwalk, he said. From there the restoration process begins.
There seems to be a disconnect between what the crews are reporting in terms of power restoration and the estimate CL&P provides its customers, Ms. Collyer said.
“We are constantly trying to improve external communication,” said Mr. Scerbo. And Lisette Andino, the acting manger for community relations, said, “We have been working on enhancing our communication with customers.” She pointed to a phone app, texting and social media.
The issue of trees was also discussed at the meeting, with Mr. Scerbo saying CL&P owns no trees but must deal with them in relation to the power poles. For Redding, he said, there are two types of trimming, enhanced, for trees under wires and poles, and standard tree trimming.
Private property owners sometimes object to a tree being trimmed or taken down, he said, and sometimes municipalities don’t want trees “cut all over the place.”
Referring to the Dec. 22 tree incident and power outage, Ms. Collyer said the town needs to do an assessment of trees around the power lines in that part of town.
Mr. Scerbo said about three miles of enhanced tree trimming is on the list for Redding.
Burying power lines is an expensive option, said Mr. Scerbo when it was suggested by a resident. Some sections of the state are happy with overhead lines, he said. “It’s not fair for them to pick up the tab for a certain section of the line,” he said, adding it would be considered inequitable. The company is regulated, he reminded people.
Mr. Berry said First Selectman Natalie Ketcham’s call for cross-training for CL&P crews so they can clear trees and wires is a good one. “You’re looking for suggestion and we’re full of them,” he said.
During the meeting a resident raised the issue of a wire tied to a tree on Pickets Ridge Road that has been reported to CL&P. Mr. Scerbo surmised it is a cable or phone wire. He said to report the wire and if it does not belong to CL&P, his company would notify the company that owns it. He made a note to check on the wire.
Jeff Boxer said he and his neighbors see trees that are ready to fall.
He was advised by Mr. Scerbo to call CL&P to report these trees.
“We give you information, and you give us nothing back,” said Mr. Berry.
“We have been working aggressively to enhance our tree trimming program, our forecasting of storms,” said Ms. Andino, adding that new tools are being used and different measures to enhance performance are in place.
Noting that power in West Redding was out “the same nine days” with Sandy as it was in previous storms, Mr. Berry said the evidence does not support Ms. Andino’s assessment.
Mr. Scerbo said later in the meeting that the company is not ignoring West Redding but is getting as much information as it can.
At one point during the meeting, Mr. Scerbo explained the company’s power restoration procedure, which places critical town locations, as determined by the first selectman’s office in conjunction with CL&P, at the top of the priority list. Places like town hall, the emergency shelter at Joel Barlow High School, the Community Center, and the police and fire departments are on this list.
The next priority is to get power restored to the greatest number of customers in the shortest period of time.
CL&P plans ahead when a major storm is approaching, said Ms. Andino, adding that this includes getting out-of-town crews on standby, amassing CL&P staff and getting press releases to the media.
As the nearly two-hour meeting was drawing to a close, Ms. Andino said she and Mr. Scerbo had gotten a lot of feedback on West Redding.
“We listened to your concerns and will take them back,” she said. “We are here to be partners with you.”
“The meeting is only successful if it changes things,” said Mr. Berry. He asked how soon someone from the company could return to tell West Redding residents how things will change or why they can’t. “We want them to be there with answers and action,” he said.
Ms. Andino said a meeting would be set up, but first there is a process for a plan of action.