Home » More really bad storms would still knock us out

More really bad storms would still knock us out

Some good recommendations have come out of the work of the commission appointed by Gov. Malloy to study the long and excruciating electric power outages after the tropical storm in August and the freak snowstorm in October. The governor has followed up with his own recommendations.

Among the two sets of recommendations are better coordination among power companies, state and local government, cable and cell phone companies, and out-of-state repair crews; “hardening” the power line infrastructure with more durable materials; and establishment of outage restoration standards for power companies, and fines for failure.

But the recommendations now have to go to the Public Utility Regulatory Authority for elaboration and enactment, and as the most important ones may involve great expense, little really has been accomplished yet. The governor wants to commit another million dollars to the state Transportation Department for tree trimming along state roads, but most trimming to protect power lines is done by power companies, and how much should be done and the standards for doing it remain to be decided. Substantial protection for lines would require not just trimming but removing any tree whose toppling could touch a power line, and few people would stand for that, quite apart from the cost added to electric bills.

The co-chairman of the study commission, Joseph McGee, asks the key question: “Will the public be willing to support an increase in monthly electric bills in exchange for an increase in the resiliency of the system? That’s the great public debate.” And that debate has not even started yet, just put on the utility authority’s agenda.

Of course from the moment the tropical storm and the snowstorm departed, Connecticut knew just by looking around that the problem was almost entirely a matter of trees. The evidence of that remains all around — the innumerable broken trees that haven’t been cleaned up and the amputation marks on the trees that have been. Even if all the recommendations of the study commission and the governor are acted on, similar storms still would devastate Connecticut’s electrical system, just marginally less than the last two.

If, when the utility agency is finished with the issue and no enthusiasm for spending serious money has been found, it may be realized that the biggest mistake here was simply Connecticut Light & Power’s frightened underestimation of the time necessary for repairs. If the company had said 10 days, which is what it took, instead of only a week — indeed, if, from the start, the company had told the unpleasant truth about tree trimming and the prohibitive cost of maintaining a repair fleet of a size that might be fully deployed only once in 30 years — Connecticut might have spared itself a lot of mistaken resentment and indignation.

Now that the Malloy administration has settled on spending $567 million in state and federal funds to build a 9-mile bus highway between Hartford and New Britain, the Associated Press has discovered that the number of bridges on Connecticut highways that are in poor condition has risen to 317.

State Transportation Commissioner James Redeker calls the deterioration of bridges his department’s biggest challenge. Gov. Malloy notes that the deterioration is the result of lack of maintenance performed during the 15 years prior to his election, and he promises to work on the problem. But somehow money still was found first for the busway instead. The undertaking of grand new projects amid the crumbling of Connecticut’s infrastructure remains state government’s policy from administration to administration.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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