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Blumenthal Calls For Stronger Federal Disaster Response, Urges Establishment Of Micro Grids And Improved Access To Storm Crews

(Washington, DC) – Today, in a statement at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on weather-related outages, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) urged the Committee to review the Mutual Assistance Group system, so that all states have ready access to adequate numbers of line crews during extreme weather. He also advised the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to provide incentives for utilities to establish micro grids.

Blumenthal requested this hearing with Senators Shaheen, Kerry, and Brown, in the wake of Hurricane Irene and an October snowstorm that left millions in the Northeast without power for weeks. Blumenthal provided the Committee with feedback on the storm response he witnessed first-hand in Connecticut.

“There are lessons here that can be learned by states across the country and ... by the federal government … I’m urging the Committee to review the Mutual Assistance Group process for shareholder-owned utilities and enact measures to ensure that every state has ready access to an adequate number of line crews following a disaster … And then second, I’m urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to provide clear direction and incentives for utilities to establish micro grids … that will help ensure that at least a portion of the town or city has some electricity during the next big storm. … We need policies that encourage self-managed, vertically-integrated designs that realize the investments that are being made right now,” said Blumenthal.

General Manager of Norwich Public Utilities (NPU), John Bilda, at Blumenthal’s request, testified at the hearing about his success in restoring power to 98 percent of customers within 48 hours of Hurricane Irene. Specifically, Bilda spoke about NPU’s aggressive collaboration efforts with various entities, such as first responders, employee bargaining units, local officials, and industry peers, to develop a central, streamlined response process. He also encouraged development of a well-organized and effective mutual aid system, as well as clarification of regulations regarding appropriate use of micro grids, so that utility companies can expand their micro grid and smart grid systems.

“Our employees are highly valued, dedicated, and very skilled.  They live in our community and possess local and institutional knowledge of the system.  They are aware of the needs of the citizens and businesses of Norwich.  There are times, however, where we require mutual aid.  We are fortunate to be a part of the public power fraternity and members of the Northeast Public Power Association or NEPPA, which supports our requests for mutual aid,” said Bilda.

Blumenthal requested this hearing to review our nation’s electric grid reliability standards in the face of a documented rise in extreme weather throughout the country. Last year, hundreds of thousands of residents went without power for days after Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm. These storms affected many Connecticut business owners, who were forced to shut down for days due to lack of electricity, and also posed a significant public health concern throughout the region.

Blumenthal’s and Bilda’s full statements can be found here:*%5Eui%2F1065%2Ffiles%2Fw20120426175350808%2FSenBlumenthalOSEnergy042612.mp4