Selective burying of electric wires to protect critical public services, dramatically enhanced tree-trimming and new utility performance standards with penalties topped a list of recommendations issued Monday by the panel studying Connecticut's readiness for future major storms.
Now consumers must let state officials know how much more they will pay for this system, said Joseph McGee, the chairman of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Two Storm Panel.
The panel's final report also warned that public- and private-sector emergency plans need to anticipate responses for more severe weather and called for improved communication among utilities, state and local governments, labor unions and private social service agencies.
Though the panel stopped short of recommending any specific increase in residential and business electric bills, McGee said that a portion of any added burden would fall on consumers.
"That's the great public debate," McGee said. "It needs to be transparent, and that's where we need to begin this conversation.
Malloy said his office would issue a response to the report later this week, and that it could include state policy changes to be made immediately through an executive order, as well as recommendations for the General Assembly to consider during the regular 2012 session, which begins in February.
Malloy charged the panel with assessing both public- and private-sector readiness for weather-related disasters after Tropical Storm Irene and an Oct. 29 nor'easter. The former storm left more than 670,000 customers without electrical service while the latter eliminated prow electrical for more than 800,000 residences and businesses.
"We did many things right in the wake of these two storms, but when the margin of error is zero -- like it was for these two storms -- we have to do better," Malloy said.
Connecticut Light & Power Co., the state's largest electric utility serving about 1.2 million customers in 149 cities and towns, issued a brief written response.
"We share the objective of the Two-Storm Panel and the Governor to ensure Connecticut is better prepared for the next emergency, recognizing that weather-related events offer unique and extreme challenges for our communities," the statement read. "The report of the panel is extensive and we have begun our review of the findings and recommendations that pertain to CL&P. In the meantime, we have already taken a number of steps to strengthen our own preparedness and to engage with state and municipal leaders to improve our collective response to adverse events."
ASSUME THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO
CL&P absorbed the majority of criticism, both from public officials and from consumers, after power restoration efforts took between nine and 12 days after each of the two storms. Criticism was particularly high following the October nor'easter, which dumped between 1 and 2 feet of snow on much of northern and central Connecticut and dropped temperatures below freezing.
Shortly after that event, CL&P President Jeffrey Butler resigned and the company announced new administrative assignments to improve readiness for future storms. The company had failed to make power restoration deadlines following the October storm and Butler had conceded that CL&P had struggled to secure the private contractors it needed in a timely fashion.
McGee's panel echoed the conclusions reported last month by Witt Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based public safety and crisis management firm led by former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Witt.
CL&P has an emergency response plan that cites a worst case scenario of more than 100,000 outages. "This is far less than the number of outages experienced during the two storms," McGee's panel wrote, "and clearly less than the outages that should be anticipated should a Category 3 Hurricane strike Connecticut.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, which is used to classify hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean or northern Pacific Ocean, ranks categories 1 through 5 in terms of increasing severity. A Category 3 Hurricane features winds ranging from 111 to 130 mph with "high risk of injury or death" and "devastating damage" to buildings, other structures and trees.
Besides pressing all utilities to devise plans to reflect "a true worst-case scenario," the state also should develop performance standards -- including penalties -- for utilities to meet in future crises, the panel recommended.
A major portion of the panel's report also questions whether state and local government readiness plans are too mild, failing to anticipate the worst possible weather Connecticut is likely to face in the coming decades.
The state Department of Emergency Management considers a strong Category 3 Hurricane, such as the one that struck Connecticut in 1938, as the "most probable," worst-case disaster scenario facing the state, the panel reported. And meteorologists for the National Weather Service testified that Connecticut is overdue for a major hurricane.
A Category 3 storm would far exceed either Irene or the October nor'easter, with the potential to black out the entire state, the panel reported. While total damage for both storms was set at between $750 million and $1 billion, damage from the 1938 hurricane, adjusted for inflation, tops $54 billion, the report states.
The panel also reported that meteorological testimony showed sea levels are expected to rise by 1.5 feet by midcentury, and the storm surge during Irene already came "perilously close to flooding water and sewage treatment facilities."
Besides upgrading emergency response plans, state transportation and environmental protection officials should develop new engineering standards to ensure that new road, bridge, sewage treatment plant and other infrastructure construction reflects the more severe weather and other environmental risks Connecticut faces, the panel recommended.
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Firefighters say an electrical malfunction caused a house fire that happened Saturday on Carline Alley, near Sam Rankin Road.
Firefighters say the heater in the home's bathroom is where the blaze started. It wasn't long before the whole house was filled with smoke and flames.
Nobody inside the home was hurt, but a few firefighters were treated for minor burns.
The Red Cross is helping the residents out with shelter, food and clothing.
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Three PROW electrical goods retailers have agreed to make limited changes to the way they sell extended warranties to avoid a full-blown UK competition investigation.
Dixons, Comet and Argos will contribute to a new website comparing the features of warranties sold in different stores, and bankroll independent “mystery shopper” exercises to check that shoppers are being given accurate sales advice.
In addition, Dixons has agreed to disclose clearly the annual cost of its “pay-as-you-go” warranties, amid concern that they can be expensive if held for long periods.
The store chains agreed to the changes, announced on Tuesday, to appease the Office of Fair Trading, which started investigating the £1bn-a-year market last April.
The pro-consumer group Which? has repeatedly questioned the value of some extended warranties, which typically cover the cost of repairing or replacing a gadget outside its manufacturer’s warranty period.
About two-thirds of such policies were sold by electrical goods retailers when a gadget was purchased, the OFT found, making it difficult for independent providers of cover to win business.
Other factors that helped merit a referral to the Competition Commission for in-depth investigation were were the limited shopping around by customers and a lack of information on the reliability of electrical goods and repair costs, the OFT said.
However, the undertakings agreed with the main companies in the sector would remove this threat.
The extended warranty market has been investigated on several occasions by UK competition authorities.
Describing the probe into the sale of extended warranties as “one of the longest-running sagas in UK retailing”, Nick Bubb, an independent retail analyst, described the outcome as “fairly feeble”. The impact on major retailers would be minimal, he said.
Selling extended warranties is an important part of the business model of electrical retail groups. Although it accounts for a small proportion of overall sales revenues, the activity is highly profitable, and supplements the wafer-thin profit margins on electrical hardware.
“The sale of warranties isn’t as profitable as it used to be, but it’s still pretty high margin,” said Mr Bubb. “Consumers want to buy peace of mind, but the fact is, electrical appliances don’t break down as often as people think.”
Ann Pope, director in the OFT’s goods and consumer group, said: “We remain concerned that, despite recent improvements, this market does not work as well as it could for consumers.
“We welcome the retailers’ initiative in offering undertakings and we now want to hear from consumers and others whether they think these will lead to improvements.”
The OFT said Dixons was the main supplier of pay-as-you-go extended warranties, under which customers purchase a rolling contract involving regular payments. They are not offered by Comet and Argos.
Dixons’ customers generally paid significantly more for a pay-as-you-go warranty than they would have if they had opted for a fixed-term arrangement of the same duration, the OFT said.
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