HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut's largest utility is taking few risks as it promises that power knocked out by Superstorm Sandy will be restored to most customers by early next week, avoiding a repeat of a more specific prediction made after last year's freak October snowstorm that missed the mark.
Bill Quinlan, senior vice president for Connecticut Light & Power, told reporters on Thursday that the utility expects restoration to be "substantially complete" by Monday or Tuesday, with about 2 percent of customers still without power then.
About 270,000 customers of CL&P and United Illuminating had no electricity late Thursday evening, down from more than 625,000 on Tuesday after Hurricane Sandy and the hybrid storm it spawned when it merged with two other weather systems pounded the East Coast. CL&Power reported about 187,000 customers without power, while UI had about 83,000.
Quinlan said he would not be more specific because of the extent of damage and efforts to restore electricity. For example, CL&P must install more than 1,000 new poles and re-string several thousand spans of wire, he said.
"There's a lot of work ahead of us," Quinlan said.
Restoring power a week after the storm would be an achievement, considering the size and destructiveness of Sandy, he said.
"If we're able to pull this off, in my view, this is among the best restorations you'll see in the industry," Quinlan said.
Quinlan's refusal to be pinned down to a day when all power will be restored contrasts with a pledge last year by then-President Jeffrey Butler. At a news briefing, he promised that 99 percent of customers would have their electricity back on by Nov. 6, eight days after the October 2011 storm began. Power was not fully restored until Nov. 9, drawing widespread criticism of CL&P and its leadership.
Legislation signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy this year gives regulators tighter oversight and authority to fine utilities for failing to restore power after an outage of 48 hours. John W. Betkoski III, vice chairman of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, said regulators will examine the "entire restoration process" by utilities when considering timely efforts to reconnect customers.
Quinlan said CL&P is increasing the number of linemen being brought into the state to 2,000, up from 1,080. Hiring is particularly difficult because of a huge demand for line workers in heavily storm-damaged areas in New Jersey and New York, he said.
United Illuminating said Thursday it expects to restore power to 95 percent of its customers before midnight on Monday.
James P. Torgerson, president of UIL Holdings Corp., the parent company of United Illuminating, told reporters that 16,000 customers will probably not have power by then.
"We're going to do our best to do better but that's our best estimate," he said.
Some local officials, including Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport, have complained about the pace of restoration work. He said UI has failed to make power restoration a top priority for the city, which is Connecticut's largest.
Torgerson said UI spreads its resources to all the municipalities it serves.
"We show no prejudice for any town," he said.