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Storm Bill Strengthens Rules on Utilities

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Tough emergency preparedness standards would be imposed on the state’s utility and telecommunications companies under a bill approved this week by the legislature's Energy and Technology Committee.

The bill, proposed after last year's two major storms — Hurricane Irene and the October nor’easter – would give state officials and utility regulators the authority to impose civil penalties on utility companies that don’t meet performance standards.

Failure to restore services to customers within a timely fashion is among the new benchmarks.

"We are one step closer to tougher standards for utility companies and improved communication and training for state and local officials,” said Gov. Dannel Malloy. “This bill will also ensure that we make necessary investments at the local level in new technology like microgrids, so that we can be better prepared to weather whatever Mother Nature throws our way."

The full General Assembly will vote on the measure by its May 9 deadline.

Joseph McGee, co-chairman of the Two Storm Panel appointed by Malloy to make recommendations on improving emergency response and reducing power outages, said he was pleased his panel’s proposals were moving forward.

“Many of our recommendations are being carried out administratively and though the legislature,” said McGee, vice chairman of the Fairfield County Business Council in Stamford. “It appears the legislature has taken the two storms seriously, as well as the utility companies realizing there were serious problems that had to be addressed.”

McGee, however, was disappointed that some of the panel’s proposals were not acted on, such as creation of a statewide task on tree trimming.

“Trees falling on utility lines and across roadways was the main reason for outages and blocked roads,” he said.

But the bill does include requirements related to tree trimming, infrastructure improvements, reliability standards for electric distribution companies and preparedness training.

The legislation would also give the commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection the authority to direct and coordinate emergency preparations and plans of state agencies, towns and utilities.

The proposed new standards would cover minimum staffing and equipment for each utility, based on the number of customers. The bill also includes increased benchmarks for recovery and service restoration during emergencies as well as plans for deploying mutual aid crews and private contractors.

The bill is one of several being considered after the vast and prolonged power outages after both storms last year.

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