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Connecticut Utilities Prepare for Severe Hurricane Season

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its 2024 storm season prediction last week, which forecasts an 85 percent chance of above-normal hurricane and tropical storm activity due in part to warmer-than-average ocean temperatures.

A palm tree with its branches being blown sideways in strong winds.
(TNS) - Projections for what could be a historic hurricane season in Connecticut and along the rest of the East Coast this summer has the potential for massive power outages. So how are workers at the state's two electric utilities preparing for whatever nature throws at them?

It's pretty much business as usual, they say.

The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration released its 2024 storm season prediction last week, which forecasts an 85 percent chance of above-normal hurricane and tropical storm activity due in part to warmer-than-average ocean temperatures. NOAA expects a range of 17 to 25 total named storms, at wind speeds of 39 mph or higher, this season. Of those, eight to 13 should achieve hurricane winds of 74 mph or higher, while four to seven major hurricanes are expected with winds of 111 mph or higher.

Even the smaller storms can topple tree branches and bring down power lines, but Tricia Modifica, Eversource Energy spokeswoman, said "regardless of weather predictions, we always prepare for severe weather."

"Emergency preparedness is a top priority and constant focus for us, including the close coordination with the state and communities we serve that is essential during an emergency response," Modifica said.

Steve Sullivan, Eversource president of electric operations for Connecticut, said preparations for handling storms that knock out power is a year- round job. "Our team is always ready to respond to whatever may come our way — especially during hurricane season," Sullivan said. "We work all year long to make the electric system more resilient to the changing climate." That includes installing stronger poles and thicker wires, actively patrolling circuit lines and trimming hazardous trees that threaten power lines, and investing in new technologies that can shorten the amount of time a home or business is without power.

Frank Reynolds, president and CEO of United Illuminating, said that utility is also "committed to implementing measures to mitigate power outages through tree trimming and electrical infrastructure upgrades to enhance resiliency and reliability."

Chuck Eves, UI vice president of electric operation, said the utility always prepares for the worst during hurricane season.

"Many of us, including myself, experienced Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Isaias, and the impact these events had on our customers and our infrastructure drives us to work hard to mitigate the impact of future storm events," Eves said, adding that communication was key on every level from front line workers to municipal and regulatory state officials, media outlets and customers.

As a general rule, electric utilities like UI and Eversource take an "all hands on deck" approach during severe storms. So in addition to their regular duties, every employee also takes on additional storm-related responsibilities assigned to them in advance of dangerous weather conditions.

Both utilities have emergency command centers where they coordinate their storm response efforts. UI's command center is located at its headquarters complex on Marsh Hill Road in Orange , while Eversource coordinates storm response from the company's sprawling headquarters off of Selden Street in Berlin .

During severe storms, employees at both utilities have a municipal liaison who directly coordinates with town and city officials to resolve power-related issues in critical facilities, such as hospitals or nursing homes. Both utilities must establish a detailed power restoration hierarchy that is routinely reviewed by state regulators. Each municipality submits to the utility a list of 10 priorities for power restoration within their communities.

Once the storm moves out of Connecticut , workers head out to restore power and open roads blocked by fallen trees and downed wires. Eves said under current rules, once the damage has been assessed, UI has five to seven days to restore power to an affected area.

After roads are cleared, the utilities move on to restore substations, if needed, allowing repair crews to restore the largest number of customers possible. Finally, they move on to outlying customers, working first on the circuits with the largest outages down to the smallest.

Cost and cause

Trees cause more than 90 percent of power outages during severe storms, Eversource officials say.

"Tree trimming and removal are a significant part of our storm preparedness and essential to providing reliable service to our customers," Modifica said.

State statutes allow the electric companies to seek recovery of power restoration costs from storms, but only if the cost tops $1.5 million per incident, Eves said. Anything less than that and the utilities are required to absorb the expenditure.

It creates a fiscal backlog for electric companies, which must wait to recover lesser power restoration costs associated with storms until they go before Connecticut regulators to seek a general rate increase.

Between rate cases in 2016 and 2022, UI racked up about $23 million in cumulative storm restoration costs. UI sought a rate increase in 2022 and regulators didn't issue a decision in the case until 2023, and the ruling prohibited UI from recovering the carrying charges associated with the money the utility spent on power restoration during that period, Eves said.

The Travelers insurance company, meanwhile, is urging residential and commercial property owners to take proactive steps, sooner rather than later, to protect their property from summer related severe weather risks.

Bob Kreuzer , senior vice president at Travelers said property owners should consider strengthening exterior structures, reinforcing doors, windows and garages, and securing outdoor items that should be anchored or moved inside before a storm arrives. "Acting now could help mitigate potential losses," he said.

Residents should also take steps to protect themselves from injury or death during a storm, he added. Learn how and when to evacuate, put together a survival kit of necessary items needed if disaster strikes, and compile an inventory of items in your home or your small business for loss prevention.

Part of preparing for hurricane season should also include ensuring that properties are adequately insured, said Connecticut Insurance Department Commissioner Andrew Mais .

"Taking precautions and adequately preparing before catastrophe strikes is essential," Mais said. Policyholders should discuss with their agent, broker, or insurance company if their current insurance coverage is still appropriate and adequate, he said. Consumers should be sure they fully understand their policy deductible, particularly for hurricanes or wind damage, Mais said.

Flood damage is excluded from homeowner, condo, and renter insurance, he said, but separate policies can be purchased from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Flood Insurance Program or a private insurer with a standard 30-day waiting period.


©2024 The Middletown Press, Conn. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.