Dan Malloy vs. the Electric Company

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy’s got no juice with the electric companies and he just can’t understand why.

This week and for the foreseeable future, more than 125,000 people (including yours truly) who normally commute from Connecticut into Manhattan are cooling their heels at home or telecommuting thanks to an electrical meltdown at a crucial chokepoint on Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line into New York City.

On Thursday, Con Edison, the electric utility which is responsible for the wires that caused the meltdown, was allegedly involved in a showdown at Grand Central Terminal with Malloy, the first-term Democratic governor. Service may not be restored on the line until October 14.

“That’s unacceptable,” Malloy said of the timetable for fixing the outage. “We made them aware that’s unacceptable.”

By “them,” Malloy was referring to the highly regulated Con Ed as well as to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, a semi-public agency under contract to the state of Connecticut’s Department of Transportation.

Asked if he blamed Con Edison or the authority, [Malloy] replied, “Yep.”…

At the news conference, Mr. Malloy was asked what assurances he had received that another disruption would not occur.

“The same assurances I received that it would never happen,” he said.

Boom!

Malloy’s had ample opportunity to refine his tough-talk routine with the utilities. Since taking office in January 2011, he has presided over more than his share of statewide disasters, both man-made and natural. Hurricane Irene, which pummeled the East Coast in late August 2011, knocked out power to 44 percent of homes and businesses in the Nutmeg State. During the blackout, which lasted for up to a week in some parts of the state, Malloy got tough with the state’s highly-regulated electrical utilities for the first time.

“[Connecticut Light & Power’s] handling of this entire situation has been unacceptable. It’s taken too long to get power back on. There have been too many problems,” Malloy said. “And it’s time for him [Charles Schivery, head of CL&P’s parent company, Northeast Utilities] to change the way his operation is being managed.”

Boom! Boom!

Malloy was also critical of the utilities’ performance in the aftermath of last year’s Superstorm Sandy, which absolutely crushed the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Several days after the storm struck, the state’s electrical utilities gave projections about power restoration that seemed at the time to be distressingly laggard (but which ended up being slightly optimistic). The governor was having none of it:

“I have communicated to [the utility] companies in blunt fashion that I want them to do better than that and I have told them we intend on behalf of their customers and our citizens to hold them accountable for their performance.”

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Poor Dan. He keeps telling them and telling them. Why don’t they listen?

In fact, Malloy may have reason to be angry with the utilities. After all, his administration has been pretty cozy with them.

Malloy’s commissioner for the state Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection is Yale Law School professor Daniel C. Esty. Earlier this year, Esty’s wife, who just happens to be Democratic congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, was embarrassed into returning $3,500 in campaign contributions from Northeast Utilities executives and lobbyists after it emerged that her husband had briefed an investment firm about pending energy legislation that many in the state felt would have benefited the utility.

But that’s not all. Are you ready for the big reveal? Northeast Utilities, which is headquartered in Hartford and services most of the state’s electrical customers through CL&P, paid Esty $205,000 in consulting fees in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

Now that’s a lot of electric company scratch in the pocket of the man who regulates the state’s electric utilities.

Maybe the real incompetence here is not on the part of the utilities but the politicians. I mean, what good is a revolving door if it isn’t wired to generate a little power and influence?

Come to think of it, if I was Dan Malloy, I’d be pretty lit up, too.

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