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Post-storm probe of Connecticut utility

HARTFORD -- Attorney General George Jepsen called on state utility regulators yesterday to investigate Connecticut Light and Power's response to last weekend's nor'easter, which knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

Jepsen said he filed a formal request with the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which had already opened an investigation into utilities' response to outages from the remnants of Hurricane Irene. He asked them to expand the probe to include this latest storm and the response by the state's largest utility.

"I have received numerous complaints from affected citizens, many of whom are still waiting for their power to be restored," he said. "Reliable electric service is a matter of public health and safety, and Connecticut's citizens deserve to know that the utilities and the state are doing everything possible to provide electric service as soon as possible."

Jepsen asked the authority to look at CL&P's preparedness, how it reserved out-of-state contractors to help with storm recovery, its payment procedures for those contractors and its effectiveness in responding to the storm's damage.

Later Thursday, Gov. Dannel Malloy said members of the Connecticut National Guard will begin clearing local roads blocked by fallen trees now that they are mostly finished attending to state roads hit by the storm. Malloy said the troops were being deployed to Avon and Simsbury. He said they'll also be available to help out in other towns where roads are closed because of debris.

As of last evening, the number of Connecticut Light and Power customers without electricity had dropped to about 396,000, from a peak of 830,000 on Saturday.

Utility president Jeffrey Butler, who apologized for the delays, said he still believes 99 percent of customers will be restored by 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

Butler said the utility expects to spend as much as $100 million for cleanup and restoration related to the rare early snowstorm. That cost will be on top of a $100 million charge to clean up damage from Irene in August. Because the winter storm is the "same magnitude" as Irene, the utility is looking at a range between $75 million and $100 million "minimum," he said.

Parent company Northeast Utilities told investor analysts in September that ratepayers, not investors, will pay for the Irene-related cleanup as utilities seek to avoid taking a hit to its profit. It's standard in the industry for ratepayers to pay operating costs such as electrical restoration and storm cleanup.

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