Storm outages may spur underground lines
HARTFORD -- The state should consider innovative ways to provide electricity and develop public-private partnerships to allow multiple utilities to pay for new underground lines, according to the state's environmental commissioner.
Daniel C. Esty, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, told the governor's Two Storm Panel on Wednesday that as lines are dug in upcoming years to utilize new natural-gas discoveries in New York and Pennsylvania, they could become multi-use.
In fact, it could be a "quintuple play" if electric and broadband lines were put underground and old combined storm and sanitary sewer lines were separated alongside the new gas lines.
That would address the complaints from electric utilities including United Illuminating and Connecticut Light & Power about the $1 million to $2 million per-mile cost of burying electric lines.
Esty said "distributed generation" authorized by the General Assembly in 2005 and 2007, could allow for non-centralized energy generators -- such as fuel cells and gas turbines in town centers, hospitals, prisons, sewage plants, gas stations and grocery stores -- to operate when power fails on a massive scale like it did during the October snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene.
"I think everyone feels like there is a value in at least fleshing out the concept here," Esty told the panel. "The possibility of actually building out a micro-grid structure is much easier for us than most anywhere else. It might well be the foundation for a 21st century electricity system that is much more robust than what we had going back."
Such a system could cost $500 million to $1 billion statewide, Esty said, noting that local communities could undertake their own efforts, under the technical guidance of the DEEP.
He told the panel it would have to be understood as an investment in "infrastructure resilience" and would be insurance against the high costs of recovering from major storms and mass power outages.
Esty believes that the state should develop performance requirements for the recovery of electric utilities after major outages. While Massachusetts law, with the potential for multi-million-dollar penalties has been highlighted to the panel, Esty said that to date no fines have resulted there.
"I still think having performance standards makes sense and I think having a series of economic consequences flow from sub-par performance is appropriate," Esty said. "We are the ones in the public-utility context that have to provide that discipline."
Esty said that while CL&P had prepared for a 10 percent system-wide outage, UI planned for a 70 percent outage rate. The Two Storm Panel is working on recommendations to give Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on how to prevent wide-scale outages and restore electricity faster when it fails.