Tag Archives: CL&P

Jarret Liotta: CL&P, Spare That Tree!

Jarret Liotta is a 1983 Staples grad. He’s now a writer (New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Connecticut Magazine among many credits), and a blogger.

Recently, he wrote about his close encounter with the CL&P tree guys. Here’s an excerpt:

Jarret Liotta

How ironic it was to return home on Earth Day to find a representative of  Connecticut Light and Power tagging trees in our neighborhood for take-down. (CL&P apparently hires local “gardening” businesses to do this sort of work, and I have to assume — it only makes sense — that the more trees they cut down — the more they tag —  the more money they can make.)

So it shouldn’t have surprised me that he was suggesting a beautiful, large healthy tree at the corner of our property — at least 12 feet off the lines, and in no way presenting a danger — be given the ax (or chainsaw, as it were).

What was also hysterical (and frightening) was that the CL&P flyer — entitled “You Can Help Prevent Power Outages” — ONLY talked about PRUNING trees, and referenced their “tree-trimming program.” But on the enclosed permission sheet — the empowering written consent form that CL&P NEEDS to do their dirty work — they had a little line checked for “taking down,” with the numeral “1” next to it.

Were you to see the tree, you’d laugh that CL&P (or in this case, its paid assassin) would even TRY to argue this lovely life form should be taken down. But what’s so scary is that — and I have no doubt — many people throughout the town, throughout the whole state, are going to quickly sign these consent forms without even realizing it means they’re going to kill a healthy tree simply because 1) the tree killers will make more money and 2) it may save CL&P trouble in the long run.

Jarret Liotta is not a big fan of tree cutting. (Note: This is NOT Jarret Liotta.)

The carelessness with which people take axes to healthy trees — ESPECIALLY so-called gardeners and tree caretakers, ironically — is pitiful. Modern housing construction starts with clear-cutting lots, rather than trying to design structures that work in tandem with the natural world (meaning big, beautiful trees).

Homeowners consider fine landscaping cutting down everything that makes shade and grows on the ground, planting the most artificial-looking chemical-saturated grass money can buy, and surrounding it all with wood chips, wood chips, wood chips — the stinkier, the better!

On a parallel note, the state is taking great steps to cut down as many trees as possible along the scenic Merritt Parkway. Apparently everyone is feeling paranoid because of some lawsuits involving trees and death and storms, so the logic is to always blame the trees (because we can’t blame the state, or the drivers), and so they must be cut down en masse, and scenery, nature and trees be damned …

(To read Jarret’s entire post, click here.)

Warming Homes And Hearts

The weather outside may not be frightful.

Of course, that could change any second. And when it does, some Westporters will spend plenty of money heating their homes.

Others — not so much.

One difference is energy efficiency — including hard-to-manage and often-overlooked areas like insulation.

Help is at hand. In fact, it has been for a couple of years.

Since March of 2010, over 300 Westporters have taken the “Home Energy Challenge.” That puts us Number One — ahead of 13 other towns — in a contest for the most “Home Energy Solutions” visits and upgrades.

The goal is for 1,000 residents to decrease their energy consumption by 20% by July 2013. It’s a worthy aim — with benefits for your own home, and the environment at large.

Need another incentive to “join the Challenge” — besides the fact that for just $75, you’ll reap hundreds of dollars in savings?

Well, for every home energy upgrade commitment made by the end of February, a blanket will be donated to a family or child in need.

That should warm your heart (and home) too.

(To learn more, and sign up for a Home Energy Solutions visit, click here or call 203-200-0626. Tell ’em Dan Woog sent you.)

Scott Smith Thinks That He Shall Never See…

 The other day, alert “06880” reader Scott Smith saw a CTMirror report on Westport’s favorite topic: big houses bad drivers power outages.

The story noted that a panel studying the state’s readiness for future major storms recommended selective burying of electric wires, new utility performances standards (with penalties) — and “dramatically enhanced tree-trimming.”

Well!

As Scott says: “If you thought deer were sacred cows in Westport, just wait till the town or CL&P tries to take down someone’s favorite old tree in the name of public safety.”

Scott says a lot more, too. Here are his thoughts on trees, wind, snow, and What It All Means To Westport:

The birch tree that caught Scott Smith's attention.

Walking my dog recently on the marsh side of Sherwood Island, I came across a stately old white birch that is the biggest I’ve seen. Great shape, full canopy, marbled white trunk as thick as an old oak. Set just off by itself from a grove of other birches, it was encircled by brush, through which rose a tangle of vines that threatened to strangle it.

On my next walk, I tucked a pair of long-handled pruning shears under my coat and brought them with me to the glade. While the dog stood by with a tennis ball in his mouth and a puzzled look on his face, I worked my way around the old tree to nick the strands of wild grape and oriental bittersweet (the nasty invasive vine with bright orange roots) that vied to take it down.

I don’t know if that makes me a vandal of state property, but it sure brands me as a tree hugger.

I’m no arborist, but I have my favorites: trophy trees around town that I marvel at through the seasons. I could easily point out a dozen, even in my own neighborhood, that I consider landmarks, if not old friends, that always catch my eye.

Westport and its surrounds are studded with trees that individually, and all together, are truly one of the great things about living in these parts. It would be cool to see a townwide census of the best specimen trees of all types, to honor them, protect them, appreciate them while they last.

But no doubt about it: We have, ahem, a growing problem with trees.

A Westport scene less than 3 months ago -- right before Halloween.

As CTMirror stated, a key step in better preparedness, a statewide panel recommended, involves recognizing that past vegetation management efforts were insufficient. Fallen trees and limbs were responsible for the bulk of the outages in 2 recent storms, including 90 percent of those during Irene.

CL&P proposed last month that it increase its tree-trimming budget by 10 percent compared with its annual average over the prior decade.

According to CTMirror, the state panel did not recommend a specific increase, but called for a statewide tree risk assessment study. This would be followed by a 5-year collaborative effort among utilities, towns and the state to implement an enhanced tree-trimming program.

CTMirror says the panel also recommended that Connecticut establish a statewide Hazardous Tree Removal Fund. It would provide matching grants to residents, who would help pay to remove trees on private property that pose a risk to electric wires.

I wonder how the Town of Westport will respond to this report. I know we have a tree warden, but I’m pretty sure that’s a puny, patronage-type position. (The warden came by my house a few years ago because I was worried a rotted old maple on town-owned property alongside my driveway might fall on my car; he said he couldn’t do anything unless a tree was an “imminent danger.” The tree fell in the next nor’easter, missing my car but landing on my house.)

An unfortunately familiar scene in the windstorm of 2010.

What Westport needs is not a tree warden but a tree czar. My neighbors on the private street down the way from my house squabble endlessly about who pays for tree maintenance – homeowners or the street association? With every passing storm another towering oak falls across their road and the power lines, taking out our entire neighborhood for a week.

In a way, I don’t blame them – who knows when a time-bomb of a tree will drop? Homeowners’ insurance is sketchy at best, and I know a lot of my neighbors – the retirees, especially – don’t have the $2,000 or $5,000 lying around needed to cut down a big old tree proactively.

I like the idea of a state tree removal fund, but we need someone local with authority, someone who can see the proverbial tree from the forest and act before it’s too late. I imagine the lines of jurisdiction and responsibility and red tape – not to mention hard-core NIMBYism — will be a lot harder to cut through than the vines that swarmed around my pet birch at Sherwood.

Too bad there’s not much need for wooden masts or stout roof beams, or capacity to make homegrown furniture these days. I bet as a resource, the new old-growth forests lording over our houses, streets and power lines are every bit as valuable as the virgin stands harvested by the first settlers 3 centuries ago.

Our tree trouble isn’t going away anytime soon; it will surely get a lot worse, as our forest canopy ages and the nor’easters and hurricanes strengthen. This is the calm before the next storm.

More than any other natural disaster, trees are our earthquakes, our forest fires, our floods. I don’t want to depend on the state, the feds or, god forbid, CL&P.

So what’s our plan?

They're called "killer trees" for a reason. This scene is from the windstorm of March, 2010.

Pleading For Power

Residents of Hunt Club Lane are asking politely for power.

In a couple of days, they may not be so polite.

Club Green Hopes To Win Green

Last year, Staples’ Club Green won $5,000 in CL&P’s “Live Green Win Green” contest.  The money helped fund EcoFest, and paid for recycling bins for the school and athletic fields.

This year, club members helped bring in a double-sided printer for the library.   It saves 350 reams of paper a year — that’s $1,000, for those who care more about money than trees.

Club Green also hopes to make EcoFest — the yearly environmental/music festival — better than ever.

They’d also like to win that $5,000 again.  Or $20,000.

“06880” readers can help.  Public voting begins tomorrow (Wed., March 9) — just click here.  (You can vote multiple times each day.  Hey, it works for Chicago.)

After voters winnow the field, judges pick the final winners.  The grand prize is 20 grand.

Club Green members (from left) Brett Adelglass, Sarah Fox, Ben Meyers, Dan Navarro, Harry Stuttard, Nicole Brill, Swheta Lawande, Caroline Foster, Mike Aitkenhead (advisor), Alex Krayson, Robby Gershowitz.

Feelin’ Green

Earlier this year, the Green Village Initiative sponsored a survey.  The topic — home energy efficiency — is not exactly sexy.  (Actually, it’s pretty frumpy.)

Nonetheless, 213 Westporters responded.  64% say that energy efficiency and conservation is their most important “green” issue.  That was followed by land and water use (54%).

The most common energy-reducing actions taken by Westporters was the installation of programmable thermostats (62%).  Other popular measures include scuttling old appliances for Energy Star ones; replacing old boilers, furnaces or windows with more energy-efficient; adding insulation, and installing compact fluorescent light bulbs.  Only 3% said they had taken no action.

The survey also assessed Westporters’ knowledge of, and interest in, CL&P’s Home Energy Solutions program — a visit that includes on-the-spot improvements, including caulking and sealing of critical air leaks, and additional benefits.

Of the 70 respondents who have already had an HES visit, the biggest reason (61%) was to reduce utility bills — followed by lowering carbon footprints (45%) and fighting climate change (37%).  Those are also the 3 reasons most cited by homeowners who say is it “very likely” they’ll have an HES audit done.

However, survey co-chair Alan Abramson says, the biggest benefit reported afterward is comfort.  Many homes are drafty, and the difference is immediately apparent.

This was not, GVI realizes, a random sample.  “It was sent out to people who were probably inclined this way in the first place,” Alan Abramson admits.

Only 8% of the respondents lived in a home that was less than 10 years old.  The majority — 29% — lived in a house at least 75 years old.

Still, the survey results are real — and important.  GIV is now figuring out how to pass the word about Home Energy Solutions (and address those Westporters uninterested in energy efficiency).

GVI might want to remember the adage:  “Strike when the iron is hot.”  Or, in our case, “when we still remember how cold and miserable we’ve been this winter.”

Alan Abramson’s Energy

When the oil embargo hit in the 1970s, Alan Abramson was energized by environmental awareness.  But he was just starting his career as a bond trader; he was just married, had his 1st kid — you know how it goes.

But Alan never stopped wondering why America used its resources so inefficiently.  And he could not understand why we bought so many resources from our enemies.

Alan Abramson

Alan, his wife Lynn and their young family moved to Westport 20 years ago.  “It’s the best thing we ever did,” he says.  “We absolutely love the community.”  He had a successful career in bonds — but he never truly loved the industry.

In 2007 hooked back up with his alma mater.  Duke’s online master’s program in environmental management was aimed at environmental professionals.  Alan wasn’t one — but as an expert in market-based solutions, he was in.

“It was a great experience,” he says.  He graduated in May 2009 — a horrible time to look for a new job, let alone change careers.   But Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions needed a carbon markets fellow, so 2 months later Alan moved to Durham for a year.

Lynn stayed here.  She was attending Columbia University’s Teachers College — getting a master’s in English education.

“People on Wall Street think they’re the smartest people on the planet,” Alan says.  “Well, there’s incredible talent in academia too.  And the energy level there was like being on the bond trading floor.”

When his year was up, Alan returned to Westport.  Soon, Gordon Joseloff asked him to co-chair the 1st selectman’s Green Task Force.  Simultaneously, Dan Levinson asked Alan to co-chair a Green Village Initiative to help local homeowners become more energy efficient.

At Duke, Alan had become intrigued by the low rates at which people take steps to reduce energy consumption.  A result of his interest is a survey currently making its way around town.  The questions are designed to understand local knowledge and interest in home energy efficiency measures.  (Click here to take the survey.)

After the results are tabulated, GVI will organize a focus group to find out how best to market energy efficiency to  Westport.  Alan knows energy efficiency is not a long-term solution — as a recent New Yorker story pointed out, the more efficient energy usage becomes, the more energy is used — but he calls it “a bridge to the eventual answer.”

An energy analysis unearths plenty of information about heat loss.

As environmentally aware as this town is, there are still obstacles to more efficient energy usage.  Many homeowners don’t realize, for example, that a CL&P Home Energy Solutions analysis costs just $75 with co-pay — and that we pay for the audit program anyway, through a utility bill charge.

We don’t have a lot of time to pursue energy efficiency solutions.  And although a 10% reduction in energy bills sounds nice, for many Westporters the actual dollar amount is not significant for many.

“The key is to get lots of people to do it,” Alan says.  “Then the reductions in use would be enormous.  And the payoff for the community would be huge.”

Surprisingly, Alan is “not a big advocate of ‘green’ and ‘sustainable.’  I think those words have been marketed very poorly.”  He is no marketing expert — but he knows there are plenty of Westporters with expertise in that field, who can help market the energy efficiency cause.

“It’s important for people to be aware of their consumption habits,” he says.  “We’re a consumer society, and we measure our success based on GDP.  Our perception is that consumption equals lifestyle.

“We have to find other ways to measure success.”

Highwood Lane Needs Help

An “06880” reader who lives on Highwood Lane — which connects Highwood Road and Cavalry Road, near Newtown Turnpike — reports:

Highwood Lane has been blocked by a fallen tree since last Thursday, and no one is willing to take responsibility to clear it.

The tree is leaning heavily on utility lines running from pole to pole but the neighbors haven’t lost power, cable or phone — and that’s part of the problem.

CL&P says the tree is not on their lines, Cablevision says they don’t have the equipment to remove it, the Town of Westport says it’s a private road so they have no responsibility, and the private tree companies say they won’t touch it since it’s resting on utility lines.

The neighbors are running out of options, and wondering what good is paying property taxes to Westport.  Day 6 and counting…

“06880” readers are never short on suggestions.  Please keep them serious, realistic, and PG-rated.

They’re Workin’ On It

As they did in March, Westporters are complaining about the slow pace of power restoration.  It was hard to find crews this morning — and, according to Westport Patch, there was frustration in the selectman’s office, and police, fire and public works departments regarding CL&P’s coordination and cooperation with town officials.

Early this evening, I was pleased to see 2 crews — particularly because they were working near my condo.

If you don’t recognize the “National Grid” truck (above), that’s because they came from Massachusetts to help.

This CL&P crew (yellow truck above) toiled nearby, behind the Getty station near Playhouse Square.  My power came back on a few minutes later.

Thanks, guys — and I hope we don’t have to call on you for at least a few more months.

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.