Officials look for solutions post Tropical Storm Isaias

WESTPORT — Elected officials and one candidate hosted a Facebook live to discuss the shortcomings of Eversource in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias and reforms to prevent a similar crisis in the future.

“It’s just absolutely inexplicable that we are now eight days after the storm and still many more of my constituents do not have power,” state Sen. Will Haskell said Wednesday. “Many more do not have internet which is so critical during this period of social distancing.”

Haskell was joined by state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg and Aimee Berger-Girvalo, candidate for the 111th seat in the state legislature.

Berger-Givalo said Ridgefield, like other areas across the state, saw the massive failure of what was supposed to be an established plan. She said town officials also faced challenges receiving clear communication from Eversource.

“We are at day eight and we still have over 1 percent of our town without electricity, but there are still some roads that are not passable,” Berger-Girvalo said.

As of Thursday morning, about 38 customers remained without power in Westport, according to outage data provided by the company. But town and state officials have said the numbers may not be accurate.

Steinberg, who sits on the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, said residents had a right to be angered at the utility company’s response or lack thereof.

“But I will say that if we focus exclusively on exacting punishment, we miss the opportunity of the moment,” he said. “What I mean by this is that it can and will happen again unless we bring about fundamental changes to the way the utilities are regulated and compensated.”

Steinberg said the existing regulatory framework assures utilities huge profits with minimal effort. He said more competition in the market place, utilities evolving their business model and giving incentives for infrastructure investment could help bring about change.

“We need to tie compensation to improved consumer outcomes,” Steinberg said.

Mitch Gross, an Eversource spokesperson, said the company understands the sense of urgency of residents to get power restored, and have been pushing non-stop to do this. He said the effort has not waned since the storm hit.

“We clearly understand our customers’ frustration,” Gross said. “This was a huge storm with extensive damage. As you know, there was a tornado that touched down in Westport (and) extensive tree damage around the state. Every community that we serve was affected to some degree.”

He said the company was prepared based on the best available weather information at the time as the storm approached.

“All storms are different,” he said. “This storm was originally forecast to track directly over the state ... as the storm shifted, we shifted as well by modifying our plans, bringing in additional resources and going to work.”

Gross said the company heard concern from many communities on the lack of communication between town officials and Eversource.

“That is a subject that will be a part of the upcoming reviews and investigations, which we will, of course, participate in,” he said.

Berger-Girvalo said a lot of people who may have normally opposed regulations are now talking about it.

“I think that, knock on wood, this could be a galvanizing moment for communities,” she said.

But the speakers roundly agreed more was needed than just calling for Eversource CEO James Judge to resign.

Steinberg said the company’s communication program needed to be revamped, which could include apps to increase transparency for residents, town officials and company’s crews.

“This is an abject failure across the board on communication,” he said. “They can do so much more than they are doing now. I’d love to focus on that.”