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Connecticut lawmakers discuss po


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									Connecticut lawmakers discuss power plant oversight in wake of
deadly explosion

By sptest
Published: Mar 4 2010 - 1:59pm

Subtitle: Kleen Energy plant explosion sparks debate over regulating safety at state utilities Byline: 

By Edmund H. Mahony


   Mar. 3--HARTFORD -- Key legislators began talking about how to increase oversight of state power
plants after learning from a panel of experts Tuesday that no government agency has authority to
regulate safety issues at highly complex electricity generators like the Kleen Energy Systems plant in

   Members of the legislature's energy and technology committee appeared stunned when state Sen.
John W. Fonfara, D-Hartford, the panel's co-chairman, was met by silence after asking five experts to
name the state agency or agencies responsible for enforcing safety measures during the construction
and operation of power plants.

     Fonfara called the silence "deafening."

   "This is not a good thing to learn," he said. "Most people would believe that when we build a power
plant that affects the whole state, one or more state agencies would have oversight. I guess we have
some work to do."

   The energy committee's information meeting Tuesday morning was the legislature's first
examination of power plant safety since the Feb. 7 natural gas explosion that killed six and injured 26

at the Kleen Energy plant in Middletown. By the time the meeting concluded, lawmakers were
predicting more hearings and a close examination of safety codes.

   The Kleen plant was designed to be a highly efficient, $1 billion means of generating electricity
through natural-gas and steam turbines. Its owners said it was more than 95 percent complete at the
time of the explosion.

    Preliminary investigation and accounts by witnesses suggest that the explosion occurred when one
of several possible ignition sources ignited a cloud of natural gas vented during efforts to purge, or
clean, gas lines.

   Although the Kleen plant explosion was the reason for Tuesday's hearing, Fonfara, the Senate's
deputy majority leader, restricted discussion to plant safety in general because the blast continues to
be the subject of a criminal investigation by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

   Under questioning by lawmakers, administrators from the state public safety and homeland
security departments, the Connecticut Siting Council, the state Department of Public Utility Control
and the federal Chemical Safety Board created a regulatory picture that showed a variety of agencies
with only peripheral authority over non-nuclear-powered, state electricity generators.

    Utility regulators said they are responsible for setting consumer electric rates and the inspection
of natural gas transmission lines up to the point where they connect with power plants. The state
siting council is authorized to consider environmental and quality-of-life issues when locating power
plants. Homeland security and emergency services respond to plant disasters. U.S. Chemical Safety
Board officers investigate explosions and issue non-binding safety recommendations.

    State police Col. Thomas Davoren said power plant design and construction is reviewed primarily
by local building and fire inspectors from towns where plants are located. Davoren said that the state
fire marshal and building inspector can be consulted by local authorities on power plant construction,
but that the state police and public safety department have no jurisdiction over power plant

   "I guess the take-away today is not that there is frankly a lack of oversight, but there is a very
extensive amount of local, state and federal entities that all have a piece," Kevin M. DelGobbo,
chairman of the Department of Public Utility Control, told the lawmakers.

   The assertion did little to reassure legislators, who seemed shocked by what they suggested was a
regulatory vacuum regarding safety issues during power plant construction and operation.

   State Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, said he was "amazed." State Rep. Elizabeth Esty,
D-Cheshire, called the level of state regulatory authority "rather breathtaking."

   Fonfara called Tuesday's energy committee meeting the first step in a safety review that will likely
involve the legislature's public safety committee.

   "We will answer these questions and we will work on this," Fonfara said.


The Hartford Courant, Conn.

Article Date: Mar 3 2010Top Story?: NoFeed Name: TRIBUNELive Date: Mar 4 2010Expiry Date: Jun
1 2010


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