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July 6, 2022

PURA orders utilities to standardize, expedite utility pole repairs

Contributed A customer submitted this photo of a cracked utility pole to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority as part of its investigation.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has established a standardized process for utilities to identify and fix structurally compromised poles, after launching an investigation into customer complaints about damaged poles in Simsbury and Avon in 2021.

PURA commissioners on Wednesday morning approved a final decision that will require pole custodians — such as Eversource, United Illuminating, Frontier Communications and Verizon — to follow a new “structurally compromised pole process.”

A pole is considered structurally compromised if it has deteriorated and is unsafe, or if it is in immediate danger of failing.

Through the new process, pole custodians must either verify that a broken or damaged pole does not pose a threat to public safety, or they must remove it on an expedited basis. 

PURA Chairman Marissa P. Gillett called it a “multi-pronged approach to … ensure the safety of
our communities and a standardized approach statewide.”

Previously, each utility had its own internal, multi-stepped process for addressing structurally compromised utility poles. 

Several companies filed briefs in the case, including Eversource, which said it follows a “prompt timeline” for responding to reports about potentially compromised utility poles. The company said there was “no evidence in the record” that its current processes for inspecting and/or replacing damaged poles are unreasonable or untimely.

However, PURA found that a standardized process was needed to ensure consistency and to protect public safety. 

The process requires pole custodians to comply after being notified by a customer or PURA’s Office of Education, Outreach & Enforcement. They must inspect the pole within 48 hours and, if necessary, remove a structurally compromised pole within 10 days. Companies also must allow PURA and the Office of Consumer Counsel to access internal reporting systems by Aug. 8.

Pole custodians face consequences if a pole identified through the process fails, absent an “intervening event” such as a storm. These consequences may preclude a pole custodian from recovering expenses associated with the pole failure, along with civil penalties.

Pole custodians replaced more than 580 structurally compromised poles in 2021, according to PURA, which has jurisdiction over 900,000 utility poles in Connecticut.

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