CL[A]P Trap

Is it possible for a major U.S. corporation to have a worse couple of months than Northeast Utilities, parent company of — I can’t even say the words — Connecticut Light & Power?

First they get hit by Hurricane Irene at the end of August, causing enormous damage to the grid, prolonged power outages and intense ratepayer anger. Then just before Halloween an epic October snowstorm arrives, piling 15 to 20 inches of wet snow onto thousands of crackling tree limbs that collided with power lines across the state.

As I write this on Friday afternoon, almost 300,000 CL&P accounts remain without power (23% of the company’s customer base) fully six days after the disaster. This includes some relatively large towns (though thankfully not mine): Windsor Locks (63% still out); Vernon (61% out); Simsbury (83%); Farmington (89%); East Hartford (50%); and Bloomfield (84%). The company has set an ambitious  — and perhaps unattainable — goal of getting everyone back online by Sunday.

CL&P’s communications have been abysmal, officials altered the legend on CL&P’s outage map, its CEO refuses to apologize, Gov. Malloy has called out the National Guard to act where CL&P cannot or will not, and none other than the hyper-litigious Dick Blumenthal has called for a federal investigation.

I think my colleague Lon Seidman has it right. CL&P simply has poor customer service across the board. The company is certainly profitable, but it otherwise operates like a failing enterprise. Successful companies are customer-focused and deliver a reliable product people want at a reasonable price. CL&P fails on all three counts.

Why then does the company have a positive balance sheet, you ask? The answer is obvious, don’t you think? You’d be making lots of money, too, if you owned every property on the board and consumers couldn’t go anywhere else.

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