November 6, 2011
Every time I see Jeffrey Butler, the president of CL&P, my overactive imagination dresses him in a Hawaiian shirt and transports him to the beach-side bar I am pretty sure he will be running on the Yucatan peninsula by this time next year.
Butler probably thinks this is a bad idea, but I'm fairly sure he'll be happier there. His color will come back. The only frozen precipitate he will have to fret about will be in the blender behind him. People will see him as a source of fuzzy navels and joy, as opposed to frozen kidneys and gloom.
Someone is going to have to die on the cross for Snoctober, and it will probably be Butler. By Wednesday, he had begun thrashing like a netted squid. While insisting CL&P had prepared properly for the storm, he paradoxically blamed the utility's lack of preparation at least partly on Connecticut's meteorologists. Butler said the storm was "far more significant than what had been forecasted."
It is irresponsible to say anything that makes Geoff Fox believe he should be more hysterical and generally unwise to pick a fight with people why buy hairspray by the cargo container.
I can understand Butler's frustration. On Friday, the National Weather Service was using terms such as "perilous" and "catastrophic damage." Who can parse that kind of wimpy, ambiguous jargon?
Butler's other noticeable moment of tone deafness came when a reporter asked him if CL&P had enough line crews, and he said "No, we've been plowing too much money into executive compensation and shareholder profits, and now that I see the human cost of inadequate staffing, I am deeply ashamed."
I am kidding. Butler said Connecticut already has among the highest electric rates in the country, the implication being: "Can you imagine how much we'd charge you to actually do this right?"
Wrong answer, dude. By mid-week, it was beginning to sink in with just about everybody that CL&P doesn't have enough line workers and doesn't seem especially good at lining up the extra help it needs.
Massachusetts had a similar epiphany about one of its power companies after a 2008 ice storm and passed new laws allowing it to fine utilities for ineptitude and sloppy response. Maybe it's a coincidence, but the lights seem to be popping back on more briskly up there now.
Even in the dark, Connecticut officials were locating their spines as the week wore on. They don't really have the tools they need to ref the game right now, but they're going to get them or face the wrath of restless ratepayers who will make Occupy Wall Street look like an Indian Guides camping trip.
Two months ago, Hearst newspapers reported that CL&P used a loophole to avoid a requirement that executive salaries be disclosed to the state. Instead, the company reported the salaries for top dogs at its parent company, Northeast Utilities, where the head honcho made $8.2 million. His name? Charles Shivery. You can't make this stuff up.
We'll all be interested to see how Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, his energy commissioner Dan Esty and the legislature handle this. They formed a really swell panel after Irene. That's not going to cut it this time.
If they're confused, they should watch few episodes of the "Dog Whisperer." Cesar Millan gets it right. Either you have a calm, submissive dog who knows you're in charge, or you're the one being pulled all over the sidewalk and trying to figure out what the animal will do next. At the moment, Malloy is holding the leash and saying "bad dog." So what?
This is one of the themes of Occupy Wall Street: Don't let them run their companies just for themselves. Don't let them pay themselves huge salaries and bonuses and dividends and then bail on their obligations to the rest of us.
It's symbolically important that we reject Butler's implied choice: put up with how we do things or pay higher rates. There's a better paradigm for companies as citizens, but we have to insist on it.
CL&P is, after all, the one company that can't threaten to move out of state if they don't like the way things are.
So this will be good practice.
Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://blogs.courant.com/to_wit. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.
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