CL&P has the power to illuminate every household for more than 1.2 million customers spanning 4,400 square miles in Connecticut. It also has the power to plunge any house into darkness, its electricity shut off, when a customer fails to pay a bill within 33 days of the date it was mailed.
One missed payment and Connecticut Light & Power says no light, no power? Bill Rice, from the darkness of his Simsbury house, called The Bottom Line early in October to describe, incredulously, how CL&P shut him off.
"When I came home," he says, "my son told me there was no electricity since when he came home from school. I called to report the outage and was told my service had been shut off for nonpayment."
Rice acknowledges his payment, $152.21, was overdue but that he had no history of being late.
"I have lived in my house for 12 years and never missed a payment to the electric company or any other utility," he says.
Rice received a second jolt when he found out what it would take to get service restored, aside from paying the bill: a $730 deposit that would be held for a year.
CL&P observed the 33-day rule outlined by state law, which allows any utility to shut off service to delinquent accounts. Rice says he did, in fact, receive a shut-off notice.
"But I did not open the shut-off notice until the power was already off because I was traveling for business," he says.
But did CL&P act unreasonably?
"While there are no hard-and-fast guidelines regarding CL&P shut-offs," says CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross, "if the customer has an unpaid balance of $100 on their account and they are not participating in one of our programs, they could be shut off."
Rice requested to speak to a supervisor, who agreed to waive the deposit and restore power the following day, a Friday, after Rice paid the bill. Rice, meantime, shifted into blackout mode and turned on the family's generator while waiting for a CL&P technician.
"We had someone home all day [Friday]," says Rice. "We are lucky to have a generator because of the all the times we have lost power in the past due to storms. The generator was running in order for us to have basic services like running water and to keep our freezers running. Our plan was to turn it off as soon as the lineman got to our home."
With no sign of a lineman, Rice called CL&P at 4 p.m. A lineman, he was told, indeed showed up but quickly left.
"Unfortunately," says Gross, "power could not be restored to Mr. Rice's home because he had his generator running and our technician could not safely restore his power as originally scheduled."
Rice says his home's main circuit breaker had not been turned off. With the generator running, it would have sent power back line feeding the house, potentially endangering the lineman.
"But no one came to the door, called or even pulled into the driveway," says Rice. "And the telephone representative told me 'They don't have to.'"
Rice also was told he'd now have to wait until Monday, the fifth day without power, for a technician. To ensure trouble-free restoration, Rice also turned off his generator.
"All weekend long we had no heat, no lights, no stove, no running water, no toilets," he says. "Our frozen food is at risk of thawing."
That Monday, Rice's home was back on the power grid but he was still unnerved by CL&P's quick shut-off.
"It should be unlawful for CL&P to turn off power without enough notice," he says. "There should be some due process. What if we had a newborn or an elderly parent living with us? Twenty-one days is certainly not enough notice. It should be more like 60 days, particularly when there has not been a history of not making payments."