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OP-ED | Dear Connecticut Light & Power An Apology Is Appropriate

by Sarah Darer Littman | Nov 3, 2011 10:58pm
(8) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

Dear Mr. Butler,

I’m not the President and COO of a major utility. My annual income is less than yours by so many orders of magnitude I’m not even going to waste my time figuring it out. Yet as a self-employed person who does her own PR and marketing and further, someone single-parenting two teenagers, I’m going to teach you a few things about successful communication.

I’m doing this free of charge, as a gift to my fellow Connecticut citizens, who, like me, must be wondering if you’ve been taking lessons in damage control from Herman Cain. Seriously dude – every time you open your mouth, the worse you make this situation. So get one of your minions to bring you a coffee (I have no minions, so I’ll make my own) and read on.

Let’s start with preparation. Connecticut Light & Power is still in the dog house with its customers for the abysmal response after Tropical Storm Irene, so I’d have thought you’d make an extra special effort to ensure you guys did better this time. But here we are, almost a week later, and there are still more of your customers without power than in all of the other affected states combined.  Yet you have the chutzpah to pretend that the severity of this storm came as a complete surprise to you:

“But I will assure you, when we had the weather forecast and everything we looked at in preparation to this storm, the amount of snow that ended up falling was far more significant than what had been forecast. This event as it came in Saturday started earlier and lasted longer, with more snow accumulation—and remember, all the trees still had their foliage on them.”

So strange, Mr. Butler. See, I was in Pennsylvania visiting my son last week. I heard the weather report on Thursday night and left earlier than planned Friday morning because I was freaked out about this storm and my idea of hell is being stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike in bad weather conditions. It makes me very curious as to which weather forecast you actually listened to – all the ones I heard said the storm was going to be a doozie, and many even made a point of mentioning that whole leafy tree problem.

Then you maintained that you had called out of state crews to augment your reduced number of repair staff as early as Saturday, but this was contradicted by a press release from Dominion Virginia Power, which stated that the request for help wasn’t made until Monday.

See what I mean about the Herman Cain School of public relations?

Customers shouldn’t be treated like mushrooms, Mr. Butler –grown on dung and kept in the dark – especially when they’ve already been in the dark, the cold, and without running water for almost a week.

Just like my teens, your customers deserve to be treated with honesty and respect. It seems to me you haven’t learned squat from the Irene debacle – except how to reassure shareholders that some how you’re going to find a way to recover the storm costs from us poor suckers so that your earnings per share won’t be affected.

Here’s another important lesson in communication from the Sarah D. Littman School of Parenting.

The most powerful word you could have uttered at this time has not crossed your lips.

You’ve been arrogant and evasive and all “Heckuva Job, Brownie.” At Thursday morning’s briefing you said: “I know, especially given the weather conditions, people are frustrated, but I think we’ve been doing a very good job to get customers restored.”

Seriously, Mr. Butler? Even “Brownie” didn’t have the nerve to congratulate himself on doing a good job while people were still stuck at the Superdome.

Your customers need to hear from you what my teens hear from me when I’ve made a mistake.  An apology. “Sorry” is a very powerful word, Mr. Butler. You should think about using it.

Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.

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(8) Comments

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | November 5, 2011  12:36pm


If you were to monitor WMECO’s response in Springfield, Agawam and Longmeadow, you’d see a corporate pattern there Sarah.

Blaming the heads of the Pontiac division in CT and the heads of the Oldsmobile division in Mass is exactly what NU wants to happen.

Once the politicians figure this out and start working together in MA and CT we might see Shivery fly in on a private jet (from Berlin to Hartford no less) to testify on the further need for FEMA or TARP funds for NU.

Of course we know the slowest and worst rated response of the 4 Electric Utilities in Western Mass—WMECO, CL&P’s sister division.

MA Governor Deval Patrick is settin up hearings.

posted by: NOW What? | November 5, 2011  2:26pm

For-profit corporations and their CEO’s do not offer “apologies.” They only offer apologetic-sounding words if their company’s customer base, profits and/or stock prices shrink very suddenly and dramatically. To expect anything else is merely self-delusional folly.

posted by: Careful | November 6, 2011  9:37pm

Sarah: Your good will and support reflected towards Jeffrey Butler and Herman Cain, are purposely lacking.  Both of these gentlemen are trying to do their job.  Give them a break, or at least, a benefit of a doubt.

Your assault towards leader of CL&P, chastising him for an act of God, won’t restore the power loss, but there are many people in the field, to accomplish this task.

The only reason that you berate Herman Cain is only because he is a Republican—but if you take the time to read his biography, you will find that he is a highly educated, and successful corporate leader—that by comparison—makes our “community advisor background President Barack Obama look like a high school drop-out.”

Peace be with you, Sarah Darer Littman.

posted by: NOW What? | November 7, 2011  9:47am

Careful - Cain and Butler/UN-Able have already been given PLENTY of benefit of the doubt… and lost it. As far as CL & P goes, they’ll continue to be given the benefit of the doubt by imposition of fines, the filing of lawsuits, etc and if such measures do not result in substantial and sustained improvement they’ll ultimately be DUMPED as Connecticut’s primary distributor of electricity. And as far as Cain goes, FORGET “his” book - *anybody* can hire a ghostwriter to write ANYTHING - trust me, I know. The guy’s *evil* - and I mean that literally. You know less about him than you believe you do. I was actually hoping that he’d actually win the Republican nomination just so that he’d lose the election by a landslide, but now that he’s essentially lost it we’ll have to contend with a wolf in sheep’s clothing instead.

posted by: Careful | November 7, 2011  11:41am

NOW What:  Since you can’t forgive Jeffrey Butler, and CL&P, you must be a “hard-core Democrat” - like the writer of this story. You appear to have only selective forgiveness. I’m sure that you have forgiven Gov. Dannel Malloy for his multitude of political errors since being elected.
Malloy’s errors were not centured by an act of God, like reflected by Storm Alfred.

Again, Herman Cain’s biography, and you can’t disprove it, “makes Pres. Barack Obama, the former community advisor, look like a high school drop-out!”

posted by: NOW What? | November 7, 2011  4:55pm

Careful - No, I’m NOT a “hard core Democrat” as you put it, far from it and I don’t think I’ve ever NOT “split” my voting “ticket.” Regarding CL & P, it’s NOT a matter of “forgiveness.” It’s a matter of paying through the nose - the highest or 2nd highest electricity rates in the entire U.S. - and getting the *worst* service… only someone ready willing and abler to flush their hard-earned money down the toilet would find this situation acceptable. And as far as Cain goes, just read today’s news… told you so! And the news on him will only get worse. The national Republican Party leadership KNOWS what he’s really all about, they KNOW what’s going to be coming out as time goes on, and they KNOW that *because* of that if he wins the nomination they’ll lose the Presidential election big time. It has *nothing* to do with his being an “outsider” (he’s not), his race, or anything else that the media might invent by way of a hypothesized “explanation.” They just don’t want to lose the election, and he WILL lose the election if he’s nominated. I’m telling you, the guy’s evil. And remember - birds of a feather flock together (meaning his politically-connected friends aren’t any better than *he* is, they’re actually WORSE and just using him as a pawn).

posted by: cabinetmaker17 | November 9, 2011  7:06pm

The big picture is this, CL&P’s poor and intentionally deceptive communication and the stunning ineptitude on the part of CL&P, NU and WMECO management aside, this group of utilities are going to spend in the next few years in excess of $2 billion on a series of projects called NEEWS.  They are going to build more of the same outdated infrastructure that failed here, failed during Irene, failed during the Springfield tornado, and fails during a crisis ad infinitum. Why?  It is THEIR best investment and then WE get charged for it.

Small business owners who want to install solar most times cannot make the investment work because the CL&P / WMECO grid won’t allow a “back flow” connection.  So any beneficial excess renewable power cannot be sold back.  It is a restraint of trade, a blockage of new technology and a violation of anti-trust law because the utility wants ONLY large scale power projects and only that power they can transmit and bill us for through the use of their electric grid.

They have a stranglehold on our energy future.  We have created a dsyfunctional corporate energy model and company, NU’s profits are privatized—70% or more of NU is owned by Wall Street type investors and mutual funds—Wash DC provides a guaranteed 12% rate of return subsidy (your federal tax dollars at work) on money for NU to build projects like NEEWS and NU charges us through the nose for something we can’t refuse and maybe do not even want.

NU and CL&P also has the power to take private property through eminent domain.

What we have done is socialized our energy, privatized the profits and aggressively shut out any technology that is a game changer in terms of having a lowering cost per kWH, being more efficient,better for the environment or having a benefit to consumers and small business owners.

The only way to fix this, and NU and CL&P will scream like you are stealing their first born, is to have a substantial reform of what a utility can and can’t do in terms of shutting out competition,and determining our energy future without public input and doing what is best ONLY for the corporate enterprise rather than its customers.  At one point in time, a utility monopoly made sense. It was when mainframe computers made sense and when we burned mostly coal for power. Imagine if IBM behaved like CL&P and NU and shut out all computer development other than mainframe dumb terminals.  We are all reading this on PC and Macs because there was competition.

We can no longer afford to have a me-first, profits over people utility monopoly, and especially not in our current economy.

My thoughts for what they are worth.

posted by: Careful | November 10, 2011  3:13pm

NOW What: “Sandbagging”—Like you did by smearing Herman Cain as “Evil”—is a form of a left-handed compliment.