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Regulators Approve $300M CL&P Plan To Strengthen System

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut regulators on Wednesday approved a $300 million plan by the state's biggest utility to strengthen its electrical system to help avoid extended storm-related power outages.

The five-year ``System Resiliency Plan'' proposed by Connecticut Light & Power focuses on three initiatives: tree trimming, use of coated thicker-gauge wire, and strengthening utility poles, cross-arms and other equipment.

Bill Quinlan, a senior vice president at the subsidiary of Northeast Utilities, said the work will improve the system's day-to-day reliability and make it less vulnerable to outages in extreme weather.

More than half of the $300 million will be used for trimming trees, which are the cause of most outages with falling branches pulling down wires and poles.

Beginning next year, CL&P will install thicker wire that has a protective coating, known as ``tree wire,'' that can better withstand damage from falling branches or trees. The work also will involve replacing and refurbishing utility poles and cross-arms to tolerate storm damage and reduce power outages.

Critics faulted CL&P for slow response after two major storms in 2011 - Hurricane Irene, which arrived as a tropical storm, and a destructive early-season snow storm in October. Superstorm Sandy pounded the Northeast last October. Power was out for days after the freak autumn snow storm.

Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, said state officials established conditions as part of Connecticut's approval of Northeast Utilities' $5 billion purchase last year of Boston-based NStar. One condition required CL&P to submit for state approval a plan to improve the resilience of the grid, he said.

Regulatory approval and the utility's plan move Connecticut "a step closer to a strong and sustained effort to help make it more certain that the lights stay on when bad storms hit,'' Schain said.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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