The View From CL&P

I’ve known Chris Swan for over 40 years — ever since he was a star soccer player a few years ahead of me at Staples.

From time to time, Chris gets his name in the paper.  As director of municipal relations and siting for Connecticut Light and Power, he’s one of the go-to guys for things like transmission projects, anywhere from Long Island Sound to the Canadian border.

Chris has worked for CL&P since 1976 — a few years after graduating from Union.  He remembers his big storm duty assignments well:  9 straight days during Hurricane Gloria in 1985; a week in a 1987 snowstorm; another week during back-to-back 2006 nor’easters; the December 1992 coastal storm that flooded Main Street, and the Christmas Eve nor’easter in 1993 that wiped out his holiday.

So in the aftermath of last week’s storm — when consumers were irate that that street’s power came on before this one, and Governor Rell has launched an investigation into the utility’s response — I decided to get Chris’ eye-of-the-hurricane thoughts.

(I waited a couple of days, though.  Chris worked 101 hours during and after the storm — a record for him.)

Also chatting with us:  Mitch Gross, CL&P spokesman.

Though power has been restored to 161,000 customers — and at the storm’s peak there were 85,000 outages — that barely crack’s the utility’s Top 25, Mitch said.  Gloria was the worst:  Over 500,000 customers lost power.

That’s little solace to customers in 8 towns in lower Fairfield County.  For them, this unnamed storm tops any list, in terms of damage.

Every storm is different, of course.  This one was trees.  They were everywhere — along with broken poles.

Employees from Terex -- the Westport-based company that makes overhead lifts -- showed up at the Sherwood Island staging area last Friday morning. They thanked CL&P and mutual aid crews from around the region for their help restoring power after the storm.

In Westport, Chris said, 135 to 140 roads were blocked by trees and/or wires.  It is town policy that no emergency worker touches a downed wire until CL&P confirms it’s safe to do so.  And line crews can’t arrive to make that determination if the roads are not clear.  That’s a classic chicken-and-egg situation — one that takes a while to resolve.

Twenty years ago, Chris said, then-police chief Bill Chiarenzelli emphasized “public safety before power restoration.”  Public safety means not just keeping crews and residents safe from wires and limbs, but ensuring that emergency vehicles can get through.

CL&P worked cooperatively with town officials, Chris said.  On Saturday night, he put together a crew to clear North Avenue.  (Workers were pulled off the streets Saturday night, when conditions became too dangerous.)

From Sunday through Wednesday several dedicated crews, each involving utility workers, Public Works employees and tree workers, worked together.

It was a tough storm.  Power is back.  Plenty of people worked long hours, in less than ideal conditions.

So, I asked Chris:  Did you lose power?

He hesitated.  “Actually, no,” he said.  “But I live close to I-95 and a substation.  The closer you are to the sources, the better the chance of not losing electricity.”

Take heart, non-CL&P employees who don’t live near substations:  Chris’s cable was out for nearly 3 days.

7 responses to “The View From CL&P

  1. My husband and I have been so fed up with the quality of service and/or lack of information provided by CL&P during power outages, that we purchased a generator which switches over six seconds after we lose regular power and runs the entire house for at least a week. Our regular power came on at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday after the storm. However, my neighbor was not so lucky, they were without power until Friday with no communication whatsoever from CL&P.
    Perhaps CL&P should take a look at the business model that Fedex employs. They know where all their packages are at a moments notice, where their drivers are, can contact them in real time, when you can expect delivery or pick-up – and anything else you’d care to know. They are easily reachable by phone, are courteous and do everything to make sure you are happy.
    Because CL&P is the only game in town, they can and do what they please. I remember not so long ago, when the town had another outage, Westporters were cramming into DeRosa’s for dinner. Not far from us were a group of CL&P employees. They were chowing down on a 5 course dinner and were there a good two and a half hours. (We were waiting in line to be seated) They were in no hurry to get back to work and could have cared less about the situation in Westport. Not a fan of CL&P!!

  2. The Dude Abides

    Chris Swan, Staples soccer, ’67. A man among men! Our street had a tree fall blocking a driveway to a home that the resident who just had surgery. They could not get out and the police department told their son DO NOT touch the tree for it still supported the electric pole. We did not listen and cut a tunnel for their automobile to wetch through. I still maintain it is the responsbility of the residents of this fair town to take care of the trees on their property and bug the hell out of CL&P and/or Westport to trim them or cut them down. While we waited
    five days, I found the Cl&P crews cordial and very efficient. They were not happy for their bosses had refused overtime and stuck them in some motel in West Haven while they commuted daily for a standard work day’s pay. My only experience is in Houston (the city with the worse catastrophic weather in the nation) and when you lost power, there was a power truck out there quickly and working 24/7. Not so true here this time around here. But if your house is worth an average of 1.1 million, ain’t you gonna put in a generator that will cost you 10 grand?

  3. According to CL&P, line workers and physical workers do get time-and-a-half. If they work Sundays, holidays, or either exceed 16 straight hours Monday through Friday, OR do not get at least 8 hours’ rest between 2 shifts, they receive double time for each hour worked.

    If they travel out of state to support another utility (as they did in Florida a few years ago, following several hurricanes), all time is paid double time.

  4. One thing that I haven’t read about (counter to the info given above that the CL&P worked on Sunday) is that, yes, the storm and winds were too dangerous on Saturday for crews to be out. But on SUNDAY we drove around town (some detours) but the weather was great, many roads were passable, but we didn’t see a single truck working on restoring electricity or removing the trees in the road that didn’t have downed wires. Like the woman’s story about waiting while the CL&P crews chowed down a huge meal, we had the same feeling that we knew our power was out for 20 hours at that point … but it certainly wasn’t going to come on with nary a soul out trying to restore the power. Shame on you, CL&P, for just hiding behind the story that “crews had to come from NH”. Yes, they did, but local CT crews could have started working here! Or did Greenwich and Stamford get all the trucks and Westport was the poor cousin?

  5. Innocent Bystander

    In hindsight to the storm insights:
    When CL&P finally arrived after five (5) days, I went down to greet them and asked them if they needed anything (i.e.drinks,bathroom break).
    One big thirty- something employee stormed toward me and said: “Yeah, give me a million dollars.” AND in the midst of day one’s havoc, an old time Westport “woodsman” stopped by to see if we needed any help with a fallen tree. When I questioned why he didn’t have higher priorities among paying customers, he replied:
    “Most of these people can’t afford to pay me now. They say they will pay when their insurance kicks in.” PERCEPTION V. REALITY??????

  6. The Dude Abides

    Not to break our dialogue pattern, I have to agree with Anonymous. I took a ride over to the library in Southport to attempt to find a computer on Monday (Day 2 of Katrina II)
    and there were three CL&P trucks in front of Imus’ estate. And then during a run the next day, we see two CL&P trucks in front of the new 37,000 square foot mansion on Bayberry/Cross Highway. And no one lives there! We poor folks on North Avenue had to wait three more days to get one truck our way. And Dan, three CL&P employees told me they were getting just straight pay commuting from home up by New Haven. This was on Thursday.

  7. My report is hearsay, but On Monday, March 15t h when I went to the Saugatuck Rowing Club for some warmth, a reliable source (aren’t all rowers reliable?) there told me that over the weekend (I have forgotten which day) this person went to the Sherwood Island area on 3 different occasions and watched the crews from New Hampshire lolling there doing nothing.

    This hearkens back to that earlier Comment about FedEx and its driver communications system. If Chris Swan should catch up to this message, why not look into better HQ to crew communications