Connecticut utility chief resigns amid criticism over storm response
The head of Connecticut's largest utility resigned Thursday, following criticism that he mismanaged its response to a freak storm in October that left hundreds of thousands of residents without power, some for more than a week, according to news reports.
Jeff Butler, president and chief operating officer of Connecticut Light & Power, was sometimes mocked for his performance while responding to the utility's problems restoring electricity to about 900,000 residents who lost power during the Oct. 29 nor'easter and, to a lesser extent, during Tropical Storm Irene this past summer.
Prior to joining the Connecticut utility, Butler spent 27 years with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Francisco, where he was often in the spotlight during power outages there.
In the days following the storm, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy began holding separate news briefings from Butler and didn't hide his frustration with the utility chief, Connecticut Light & Power and its parent company, Northeast Utilities.
"Gov. Malloy made clear that he thought Northeast Utilities needed to address CL&P's management issues, and it's clear that process has begun," Malloy senior advisor Roy Occhiogrosso said in a statement reported by the Connecticut Post on Thursday. "It's also likely that there will be other changes on other fronts as a result of CL&P's performance in the lead-up to and aftermath of the storm."
Some have even compared Butler's performance to that of former British Petroleum executive Tony Hayward during the Gulf Coast oil spill last year.
"When things go bad, you can't fire the team, you fire the coach," state Sen. Bob Duff, a vice chairman of the Legislature's Energy and Technology Committee, told the Post on Thursday. "I'm not surprised by this. It seemed like he was the face of the storm and, whether right or wrong, was going to be held accountable."
Multiple government probes have been opened into the storm response and the mess it created for the state's citizens.
Frank Cirillo, a International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers official in Connecticut, told the Post that the union last year had a vote of no confidence in Butler and other executives following Connecticut Light & Power's response to earlier storms.
"It's kind of a shock. My opinion is they're so arrogant, I'm surprised anything was done," Cirillo said in an interview with the Connecticut newspaper. "Let him go back to California. I wish him no ill will, but I'm glad to see him leave the great state of Connecticut."
-- Geraldine Baum in New York
Photo: Workers remove trees around downed power lines in Simsbury, Conn., on Nov. 4, six days into an epic power outage. Credit: Jessica Hill / Associated Press