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UI and Connecticut Ratepayers to Invest $50M in Storm Hardening Efforts

September 21, 2016 By Cheryl Kaften

United Illuminating (UI) has submitted a request (Docket No. 16-07-11) to the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) for authorization to spend $50 million on distribution resiliency through 2020 to protect its grid from storms.

UI said it would seek to recover the costs of the project from ratepayers – but not until two years after all facets of the four-point plan are complete, according to a report in the local Milford-Orange Bulletin.

The utility would then be able to seek to recover the cost of the projects through rate increases to its 325,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers in 17 towns and cities in the greater New Haven and Bridgeport areas. However, UI has proposed to absorb certain financing costs, resulting in what it claims to be a “net benefit” to customers of about $5 million.

Specifically, UI’s Storm Resiliency Plan, which was submitted recently to PURA, details four projects that would protect vulnerable grid components from flood- and storm-related damage, and facilitate restoration of outages. The additional resiliency projects include:

  • Pequonnock Substation Relocation: This Bridgeport substation, which serves approximately 8,000 customers, has been identified as at significant risk for damage from coastal flooding during storms. This project would coordinate with the relocation of the transmission portion of the substation by relocating the substation’s distribution components to higher ground– thereby, reducing the risk of a potentially catastrophic failure that could leave thousands of customers without power for prolonged periods. Distribution Project cost: $31 million
  • Perimeter Feeder Ties: UI’s electric grid is designed for redundancy, so that parts of one circuit can be switched to another circuit when a line is down or a similar outage-causing event is reported. This project will create nine additional circuit ties between remote areas of the grid, allowing for a faster restoration of customers in areas where an effective back-up is not readily available. Project cost: $7.6 million
  • Step-Down Bank Removal: Most of UI’s electric distribution grid operates on a standard 13.8-kilovolt (kV) voltage. But there are pockets that still operate on lower voltages. This project would accelerate an existing initiative to upgrade lower-voltage lines, transformers, and related equipment in 13 of these pockets, and remove the “step-down banks” that link them with the surrounding higher-voltage grid. This will provide additional back-up opportunities for operational flexibility, and eliminate potential single points of failure during weather-related events. Project cost: $6.3 million
  • Substation Getaway Rebuild: This project would separate and bury underground “feeder” cables as they emerge from substations at three locations in UI’s service territory, reducing the likelihood that major weather or other event could cause multiple feeders to fail. Each identified location serves up to 3,100 customers. Project cost: $5 million

The Storm Resiliency Plan arose from a series of commitments UI’s corporate parent, Avangrid, made in a settlement agreement with the state of Connecticut; which paved the way for approval of the merger last year of UIL Holdings Corporation and Iberdrola USA. Avangrid is the new name of the merged organization.

After Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and Super Storm Sandy in 2012, UI initiated a series of programs to protect customers from storm-related outages and reduce the time it takes to restore power when it is lost. It invested $15 million to provide short-term protection of coastal substations against flooding; and began implementing a new, state-approved program to create a wider buffer between overhead lines and encroaching vegetation. The utility also is adopting new systems to automate storm-response operations, providing restoration planners a more detailed picture of damage so they can deploy crews and resources more efficiently, provide more information to customers, and restore service more quickly.

“At UI, we’re proud of our strong record of providing safe and reliable service to our customers, but we also know that some parts of our grid could still be vulnerable to extreme weather and flooding,” said Joseph D. Thomas, UI’s vice president for Electric System Operations, in a formal release. “This plan identifies several projects we can undertake over the next four years to shore up those vulnerabilities and significantly reduce the likelihood thousands of customers will experience prolonged outages.”

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