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Connecticut utility pushes back deadline to restore power

By Jordana Ossad, CNN
updated 10:14 PM EST, Mon November 7, 2011
About 45,000 Connecticut homes were still without power Monday, nine days after a snowstorm hit the state.
About 45,000 Connecticut homes were still without power Monday, nine days after a snowstorm hit the state.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The state's governor says Connecticut Light and Power has "failed"
  • NEW: The company's CEO acknowledges problems but defends the response
  • NEW: The utility now vows to restore power to all customers by Wednesday night
  • It earlier promised to have power back for 99% of customers by Sunday night

(CNN) -- Having missed its first self-imposed deadline to restore power to Connecticut residents, the state's largest utility has set another one for Wednesday -- though the state's irked governor was skeptical, saying the company has "failed."

"I'll hold them against their own standard -- they failed," Gov. Dannel Malloy said Monday of Connecticut Light and Power's promise to have 99% of its customers back on line by Sunday night. "I believe that CL&P has let the people of Connecticut down."

About 45,000 Nutmeg State households were still without power Monday evening, about nine days after the state and others along the East Coast were hit by a freak fall snowstorm. Just this weekend, utility officials were promising 99% of customers would have power by Sunday night.

The company's president and CEO, Jeffrey Butler, acknowledged Monday that CL&P could have done things better -- even as he, again, asserted that the storm was "unprecedented."

"We need to understand why (our restoration effort) worked so well in some towns, why it didn't in others," Butler told reporters. "And we will address that."

In his own press conference, Malloy minced no words in criticizing the utility. He said that his office has grown increasingly skeptical about promises -- like the one to restore power statewide by Wednesday -- from CL&P, claiming it has a "gigantic credibility problem."

"Day after day, we received assurances," the governor said. "And then today, on the heels of not having (met their deadline), they still were not able to answer ... very basic questions."

Malloy said he told Charles Shivery, the CEO of CL&P's parent company Northeast Utilities, on Monday that the handling of the situation has been "unacceptable," demanding changes to how "the operation is managed." Shivery has promised such changes, like refocusing crews in hard-hit areas in and around Tolland and Simsbury, according to Malloy.

The governor criticized both the manpower devoted to fixing the issues as well as how the utility provided (or failed to provide) pertinent information to municipal and state officials about the damage inflicted and how it would be addressed.

"The inability of the utility to communicate who is on the ground, and where (they are) on the ground, is astounding to me," Malloy said.

Butler said Monday that he "understands (the) frustration" of its customers and Connecticut officials. The scale of the destruction, as well as the scale of the recovery effort, has been challenging, he claimed.

"We're operating a company 10 times the size we normally are," the utility president said, alluding to managing a large number of crews from other states. "And having the structure to support that is something we're going to have to look at."

A team from Witt Associates -- a emergency management consulting group led by former FEMA chief James Lee Witt, which has offered to do an expedited review of the state's power crisis, free of charge -- was in Connecticut on Monday.

Malloy said Monday that the consulting group's goal is to find "tangible short-term solutions to fix what is broken in terms of how power is restored to those who lose it when we have major outages."

The snowstorm killed at least 22 people around the eastern United States. Eight of those were reported to have died in Connecticut, half of them from carbon monoxide poisoning.

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