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Letter: On UI Prep, Response - 'This is Pathetic'

The letter-writer suggests subjecting the utilities company to competition.

To the Editor:

For days before Hurricane Sandy hit, weather forecasters were predicting that this could be a storm of historic magnitude. You would think that United Illuminating, in that time, would have heeded the warnings and marshaled the anticipated resources and repair crews needed and have them in place by the time the storm struck.

Yet incredibly on Tuesday, the day after the storm, UI sent only a single crew to service Fairfield, a town of 60,000 residents with reportedly 97% without power. On Wednesday they had a paltry three crews assigned to restore power in a town with nearly 300 fallen trees tangled with dangerous power lines.

This is pathetic. Even after the debacle of Irene last year, UI was woefully unprepared to deal with this storm. Now, after the fact, they are calling in crews from outside the storm-affected regions to assist in restoring power. Why weren't these units summoned, ready and in place when they had days of warning to do so?

This is what happens when you have a monopoly controlling the delivery of electricity to this area. You don't have to answer to anyone, not even state and local officials who bluster and act angry for show, but have little power or resolve to make United Illuminating do what they are obligated to. We are all at their profit-protecting mercy. Obviously, their "wait and see" and "we need to assess the damage first" tactics are meant to stall for time and save money, while thousands suffer from the loss of vital electricity that runs their lights, heating, appliances, communication devices, water pumps, and more.

Last month, I was charged $32 by the company who generates my electricity and $58 by United Illuminating for delivering it. Almost double! It's outrageous what they are charging to deliver power to their captive customers and even worse, in spite of their exorbitant rates, that they provide chintzy responses to disasters like this.

Where's the competition? Believe me, this would not happen if UI had competitors to deliver electricity. You can bet they'd put more money into disaster response and get the power back on posthaste, or people would fire their butts in a heartbeat. Let's subject these powerful and profit-centric utilities to a little more free market competition. I assure you we'd have our full power back on here in Fairfield far sooner than their unacceptable estimate of next Monday at midnight.

Jerry McTigue

Frank November 02, 2012 at 11:15 AM
And so UI will most likely be fined as Governor Malloy says will happen after their incompetence and negligence is proven - a fine they will chalk up as worth paying rather than getting prepared for the next time. And we can probably or surely expect a new CEO at the helm, probable to be as incompetent as the last two. Lastly, I can only hope our First Selectman's office will be able to answer a very simple question when asked today: "how many crews are at work in Fairfield right now and where exactly are they? " If he can't answer that reasonable and simple question then he too should be held accountable.
Frank November 02, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Spoke too soon. Just read in CTPost that new laws to fine the utilities were passes too late to apply to Sandy cleanup. And there's so much wiggle room in them that they won't really have any impact in the future. We're simply at their mercy
MikeB November 02, 2012 at 11:47 AM
One way we can show UI our displeasure with their response time - make sure that you switch the generator of your electricity (UI charges one of the highest rates in the state anyway). At least you'll be cutting the money they're taking from us by almost half.
Sean November 02, 2012 at 12:08 PM
How can 1,000,000 NJ customers get power back within 4 days but UI still can't get power back to some 200,000 residents? Tetreau needs to get tougher on UI and it is time to see if there is a way to get some choice in power companies and get UI out of Fairfield.
J. S November 02, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I have called UI and seen UI workers and all I get is by Monday at 11:59pm. That is beyond unacceptable! There were days prior to the storm to be able to get ready for this. There are workers sleeping in their trucks, and eating in their trucks? Do they have power? I'm sure if the shoe was on the other foot they would have their power restored. They need to just do this quickly, its getting colder by the days. They have other states helping and they still can't get their acts together.
curiousnomad November 02, 2012 at 04:21 PM
There should have been hundreds of workers summoned from the Southeast and Midwest on Friday or before. It was obvious that we were going to be devastated. Maybe UI is good at making money ( see the new HQ), but incompetent and greedy as far as service.
Richard Gallagher November 03, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Connecticut residents pay the thief highest tax burden in the country. Fairfield County's real estate taxes are exorbidnant, and you pay among the highest utility rates. You'll get better when you DEMAND better!
L.T.N. November 03, 2012 at 05:43 AM
What follows are serious requests. I am truly curious. Questions: Frank: What incompetence? please provide examples. What do you think a utility has to do to prepare for a hurricane? MikeB: How much profit does UI make from generation charges? Sean: Did NJ really get "1,000,000 . . . customers get power back within 4 days"? Please provide link to news articles. J.S.: The crews you mentioned: How long were they were working prior to you seeing them taking a break, or a nap? How long do you work before you take a break? curiousnomad: There were hundreds of workers available for the storm. With that knowledge, how many workers do you think UI should have had? will you be willing to pay for them? Richard Gallagher How does paying taxes to the state government translate to demanding a private company that is regulated by the state in turn translate into your demand? Questions for all: How long does it take to replace a pole with a damaged wire on the ground with 13000 volts going through it with a 90 foot oak entangled in the wires? How long does it take under optimal condition to replace a pole? What have you done to prepare for a storm of this magnitude? Were you accountable for your own safety?
Gideon Tomlinson November 03, 2012 at 12:21 PM
UI INCOMPETENCE: We were all warned that there would be a significant storm surge, potentially of historic proportions. That is why the First Selectman correctly ordered the evacuation of the beach area. The other major utility in CT built a berm to protect a single substation. http://stamford.dailyvoice.com/news/clp-stamford-work-limit-hurricane-sandy-damage UI did NOT do anything to protect 3 substations and so it had to "de-energize" 3 substations. That is why so many of us in Fairfield and Bridgeport lost power. http://www.wfsb.com/story/19942847/substation-compromised-in-bridgeport-35k-residents-to-go-dark-at-noon Some would have lost power due to trees but not 97% of the Town. UI totally dropped the ball on protecting these vital pieces of infrastructure. Blame UI management because they ignored the warnings. The Town did not. That, NOAA and luck are why there were no casualties in Fairfield, thank God, but almost all of us lost power for a long time.
MikeB November 03, 2012 at 12:45 PM
I don't recall saying they made a profit, please don't put words in my mouth - http://www.ctenergyinfo.com/choosing_an_electric_supplier_FAQ.htm What I did say that one of the very few ways we as customers who are beholden to UI can make our voices heard is by switching the power generator (their rates are still one of this highest in the state - http://www.ctenergyinfo.com/view_rates.htm?electricity_rates_id=jlq96hlv).
Creeky November 03, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I'm not taking a side here... I think the reason the politicians are so quiet on the single crew issue is because that was the deal that they negotiated after Irene. I could have this wrong but, during Irene there was frustration and finger pointing about whom had the responsibility to clear trees. Further, UI (and much more so, CL&P) were determining where to apply crews, based upon number of customers out, location of hospitals, et cetera. In the drive to make everything "fair," the town governments negotiated a plan: one crew per town, and the town cuts trees ahead of the crew. So, whether a town has 1 outage, or 20,000 outages, they've got one crew. Further, the towns directed the crews not to concentrate on on power restoration, but rather put them on getting the roads open, so that ambulances and fire trucks could access all areas. I believe this is referred to as "make safe mode." Continued...
Creeky November 03, 2012 at 02:05 PM
So, here are some points to consider...this is the worst storm in over 100 years. Many of the meteorologists have said this is worse than 1938. Already, more than half of the power is back on. Government determined the one crew system, not the power companies. Getting power back on was not the first priority, access to all roads for emergency services was. UI was not the architect of this plan, government was. If you're going to be frustrated at someone, you might as well be targeting the right someone. Caitlin, perhaps, as your schedule allows, you can confirm/disprove/correct the above.
Patrick W. McGary November 03, 2012 at 08:05 PM
It's 5 days after the storm and while every other neighborhood around me was restored days ago there are still power lines down across the only road in and out of my neighborhood. Hundreds of people are driving and jumping over these lines daily. Three calls to UI has yielded nothing more than a ticket being generated. Someone is going to get seriously hurt because of their incompetence!
Brooks Barrett November 04, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Well said LTN! So we lost the food in our refrigerator, big deal. Lets consider those who lived in flood zones, they have problems that aren't going away when the UI gets to their neighborhood. On a scale of 1-10 in the rest of my life, Superstorm Sandy was just about a .1 for our family.
J. S November 05, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Well L.T.N, yes they all do deserve their time to rest and have break but don't do it in plain view of people without power. Their INCOMPETENCE doesn't help either, they were on our street and didn't bother to check their work and now we still have no power and they show us as being "up and running". Guess again UI!
L.T.N. November 08, 2012 at 02:13 AM
MikeB, I apologize. I did put words in your mouth with my inference. You wrote, "At least you'll be cutting the money they're taking from us by almost half." UI can not profit from the generation charge. Read the state regulation put forth by PURA. SO my question is, how are you affecting UI by switching power generators?
L.T.N. November 08, 2012 at 02:17 AM
To Gideon Tomlinson: UI sandbagged the substaions, had pumps, and had men inside the stations. You think they should have done more, and you are correct. Albeit after the fact.
L.T.N. November 08, 2012 at 02:24 AM
I am rather disgusted with the empty words and ineffectual actions of those who deem it their mission to find fault with others, while not neglecting their ability to do something to make a change. Thousands of people in New York lost their homes, and possessions, as well as some in Connecticut. And you were without electricity for 8 days? My advice is to get some perspective, and be grateful for what you need and have right now.
steve sheppard November 08, 2012 at 04:42 PM
For years there have been people promoting having power lines underground. All new developments should have power lines underground where possible. Instead of wasting borrowed money on things like Penfield Pavilion and skate board park we should of been applying funds towards the adoption of moving power lines from poles to underground.
Jim Eastwood November 08, 2012 at 05:08 PM
TO all CREEKY AND LTN you got it right Storm of storms Much damage a lot of planning to get resource into this area, SHARING with other Power companies. It takes time !!!! Let's look at issues---Bury Power lines OK are you ging to pay to hook up--remember that house service and service drop is on YOU !!! Bury lines Really haver you stuck a shovel in the ground at your house Hit some Rock ?? Think about that. Other areas Really No one raises more objections to Trimmingg Trees that Fairfield County-=-I watched a stand off on the Old Post Road between a UI Crew--out of state and a resident over her tree. The situation last Thursday where crews(ou of State) where harrased is disgusting--Fairfield People look down their noses at everyong else---and the UI had to have Police Protection Ha !!! The world is laughing at you. I spoke to out of State crews from at least 22 diffent States and Canada who drove their trucks here to help--An some of you who complaine drove their SUV's over downed lines. As for your compliants---NOT A SINGLE PERSON was electracuted by a down line, and till this point no one died except a First Responder in Easton. No fires caused by electrical issues due to the slow and methodical efforts to restore power. Everone is OK , yest there are some outages, but do you realize that those might be homes that are severely damaged and cannot have power restored?
R. Ludlowe November 08, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Looking back on last week now, its clear to me how most of this went down. Some entities (CL&P) asked out-of-state crews to depart well before the storm hit. I met a crew from Kansas City that left on the Thursday before the storm, drove for 3 straight days, and was on the ground (in Westport) on Monday and repairing lines on Tuesday. This meant that CL&P "pre-ordered" their out of state crews. UI, on the other hand, waited until AFTER the storm to call in the cavalry. The out-of-state crew that fixed our power left their home state, drove for 3 days, and got to Fairfield on Friday. UI took a "wait and see" attitude, not knowing the extent of the damage (they must not watch TV or any media). Other groups took a chance and pre-ordered their assistance. I also heard that after Irene UI was very slow to pay the out of state crews... so that they had to scramble to try to find them this time since they had a) waited and b) not paid on schedule last time. I cannot validate the late payment situation, just what I heard.
MikeB November 09, 2012 at 06:45 PM
I know they can't profit from it. That's why I included the first link in my last post to the CT Energy Info FAQ page, which notes that. You may not be affecting UI's profit, but at least you're doing something. It may not matter at all, but it's probably the only "message" a customer can send to UI outside of a formal complaint.
MikeB November 09, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Jim - you might want to consider leaving out generalizations such as "Fairfield [p]eople look down their noses at everyong [sp] else" or "The world is laughing at you." It adds nothing to the conversation but animosity.
L.T.N. November 09, 2012 at 10:10 PM
MikeB, While I encourage your efforts to be heard, I feel your energies would be better spent directed at the one who affects change: PURA. The whole debacle of the power companies decoupling back in 2000 has proven to be a detriment to both the citizens of Connecticut and the power companies themselves. I defend the right for everyone to have their voice be heard, but I also believe it must be an educated one. Railing against the power companies is as productive as pushing a rope up hill.
MikeB November 14, 2012 at 02:42 PM
I might be wrong, but isn't this a cost of doing business? "Officials from United Illuminating's parent company said the cost to restore power after Superstorm Sandy is between $35 million and $40 million and the company is going to ask ratepayers to pay it through a request to Connecticut regulators." http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/UI-Sandy-Cost-35--40-million-179088441.html

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