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Conn. utilities tally harm with 2011 costs pending

Stephen Singer, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut's two large utilities have fixed about 95 percent of the outages caused by Superstorm Sandy, meeting their targets in an effort that was closely watched following prolonged and extensive outages last year.

But ratepayers who are still waiting to find out how much they will have to pay for the recovery from Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and a freak snowstorm two months later will be stuck with the bill for the third storm once the damage is added up.

Northeast Utilities' Connecticut Light & Power unit and UIL Holdings Corp.'s United Illuminating unit say they are calculating the cost of replacing poles and wires and paying salaries for line workers, tree trimmers and other workers called in to repair the damage caused by Sandy last week. Ratepayers — not shareholders — typically pay for restoration work.

"No doubt, ultimately we're going to have to pay for these, and hopefully design it in a way that minimizes any rate shock on consumers," said Elin Katz, the state's consumer counsel.

She said her office is optimistic the increases will be spread over several years and offset by the low cost of natural gas, which is used heavily in the generation of electricity.

Caroline Pretyman, a spokeswoman for NStar, part of CL&P's parent company Northeast Utilities, said it's premature to discuss cost estimates for restoring power after Sandy or say how the storm will affect the utility's decisions to file for cost reimbursement for last year's storms.

"It's just too early to tell," she said.

Northeast Utilities has estimated the costs associated with the two 2011 storms in Connecticut at $273 million, with $110.5 million for Irene and $162.8 million for the October snowstorm.

United Illuminating's parent company, UIL Holdings, said costs related to storms since January 2009 were $26.1 million as of June 30. Spokesman Michael West said the utility is looking at a "potential rate request" next year, though the precise time has not been set.

"We're still working 2009-10 rates and it's about to be 2012-13," he said. "We're being mindful of costs. We're able to manage costs as best as possible. At some point you have to evaluate where you stand in the rate base and capital costs."

For CL&P, reimbursement for previous storm restoration work will be reduced as part of a settlement earlier this year with Connecticut that wrung concessions from Northeast Utilities as it negotiated to buy NStar. CL&P agreed to exclude from rates the first $40 million in storm costs and for additional expenses to be recovered over six years.

Costs to ratepayers may not begin until December 2014.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in an email that he will scrutinize expenses submitted by the utilities "to insure that only costs that were necessary, prudent and part of effective and well-managed operations are considered for reimbursement."

Some local officials have criticized the two utilities for not fully restoring power more quickly since Sandy knocked out power to 8.5 million people in the Northeast. But CL&P and UI have not faced the kind of broad criticism that CL&P endured during lengthy outages and missed deadlines after last year's October snowstorm.

Fairfield police say several UI crews have been forced to stop work and call for police help after being harassed and threatened.

Stephanie Mastino, an occupational therapist who lives in Fairfield, was among those who still don't have electricity. She, her husband and two children, ages 9 and 11, are getting by with a generator that they a using sparingly to conserve gas.

"It's just very frustrating we're some of the last to get our power back," Mastino said.


Associated Press writer John Christoffersen in Fairfield contributed to this report.