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.