Attorney General Tong Responds to PURA Proposal to Levy $30 Million Penalty Against Eversource
Attorney General William Tong issued a statement today in support of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority’s proposal to levy a $30 million total civil penalty against Eversource for its failure to meet its obligations to ratepayers in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias.
“Eversource failed its customers and put Connecticut families at risk after Tropical Storm Isaias. I fought for swift, severe penalties from the beginning, and this $30 million penalty is appropriate. Eversource must pay for their failures,” Attorney General Tong said. “This penalty is a strong first step to hold Eversource accountable for their disastrous performance, but this matter is far from over. We will continue to fight before PURA to ensure that Eversource cannot put the full cost of their failures back on ratepayers.”
The $30 million penalty represents the maximum allowed statutory civil penalty against Eversource, which Attorney General Tong advocated for. The $30 million civil penalty is in addition to the Return on Equity reduction PURA assessed against Eversource last week to incentivize better future storm performance.
If the $30 million civil penalty stands after Eversource’s right to a hearing, Eversource shall return $28.4 million to its ratepayers in the form of credits and pay a penalty of $1.6 million to the State of Connecticut for its failure to appropriately report accidents.
PURA also assessed United Illuminating (UI) a total civil penalty of $2.1 million for alleged violations related to Tropical Storm Isaias, of which $1.8 million would be returned to ratepayers and $360,000 to the State of Connecticut for accident reporting violations, if the penalties stand after UI’s right to a hearing.
The final civil penalties determined by PURA after both Eversource and United Illuminating have had hearings shall not be collected from ratepayers.
In his brief to PURA filed on February 5, 2021 addressing Eversource’s Tropical Storm Isaias failures, Attorney General Tong argued that Eversource: 1) was imprudently unprepared to communicate with its customers during the Tropical Storm Isaias emergency; 2) imprudently administered the Make Safe phase of the storm response related to road clearing; and 3) ineffectively implemented its town liaison program during the critical early days of the public safety emergency. PURA’s Final Decision, filed last week, correctly concluded that Eversource failed to comply with the applicable performance and prudence standards for each of these fundamental areas of storm preparedness and response.
Attorney General Tong intervened last August on behalf of Connecticut ratepayers in PURA’s investigation into the response by both Eversource and United Illuminating to Tropical Storm Isaias. At the urging of Attorney General Tong, PURA agreed to open a contested case and prudence review—legal proceedings that enable the Attorney General to make the strongest possible claims on behalf of ratepayers and the state, to seek fines, penalties and injunctive relief, and to oppose the utilities’ requests for profits and reimbursement of storm-related costs. PURA has robust authority as the state’s principal regulator and the legal forum to investigate and pursue such claims against state utilities.
The Office of the Attorney General issued 58 interrogatories in the proceeding, questioning both Eversource and United Illuminating on all facets of their storm preparation and response.
Eversource’s failures caused severe harm, Attorney General Tong’s brief detailed. A wastewater treatment plant was left without power for nearly a week. A police station was without power for at least six days. A deceased person was left in a car for five hours, trapped by a tree tangled in electric wires. A family dog was electrocuted by a live downed wire a full four days after Isaias struck. Vulnerable residents were trapped in their homes without power. Those dependent on wells did not have running water.
Assistant Attorneys General Lauren Bidra, Matthew Fitzsimmons, John Wright, Robert Shea, Paralegal Specialist Casey Rybak, and Michael Wertheimer, Deputy Associate Attorney General & Chief of the Consumer Protection Section assisted the Attorney General in this matter.