State regulators reopen review of tree-cutting plan [New Haven Register (CT)]
New Haven Register (CT), 2014-01-30
NEW BRITAIN >> State regulators said Wednesday they are reopening their review of tree plans for Connecticut's two largest electric utilities and telecommunications companies.
Members of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority will hold at least two public hearings and a series of technical meetings to review the companies' plans, said Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the agency. The specific dates and locations for the hearings and technical meetings have not yet been determined, Schain said.
Wednesday was to have been the day when PURA released its draft decision for a docket investigating the tree-trimming practices of Connecticut's utility companies that was initiated in 2012. But a request made Tuesday by The United Illuminating Co. to hold additional technical discussions with PURA to explore alternatives to its current plans prompted the decision by the regulatory agency to reopen the docket.Michael West, a UI spokesman, said the company requested the meeting because "it is not unusual for a utility to request a technical meeting with PURA, particularly when you are dealing with complex matters involving regulatory policy."Schain said PURA's reopening of the docket "for additional input and hearings opens a door."
"And it through that door that we hope to ensure that we strike a balance between guaranteeing the reliability of the electrical grid and the aesthetic qualities that trees provide," he said.
PURA's decision to further delay action on the tree-trimming docket and reopen it to allow additional public input drew praise from the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.
"We are glad to see that UI is taking the public's concerns seriously," Zachary Bestor, a legal fellow at New Haven-based CFE, said in a statement. "Roadside trees provide so many well- documented benefits to our communities -- higher property values, shade, cleaner air, reduced erosion and storm water runoff, and, of course, beautiful streets -- that we must think very carefully before removing them unnecessarily. We believe it is possible to reduce risk to electrical infrastructure while retaining the street trees that make our neighborhoods enjoyable."
CFE urged PURA to use the extra time that reopening the docket created to make extensive use of experts in reviewing the tree trimming plans before the agency. The environmental group had urged PURA not to adopt a "one size fits all" approach when reviewing the various tree-trimming plans.
Bestor said "UI's vegetation management plan would have led to the removal of far too many healthy trees."
Although the tree-trimming docket before PURA deals with the plans of other utilities as well as UI, it was the proposal put forth by the Orange-based electric power distribution company that drew the most criticism.
UI will discuss with PURA officials the feedback it got from its customers at public meetings held earlier this and explore additional options that could leave intact some trees within the company's "utility protection zone" -- an area extending 8 feet from either side of overhead electric lines, from ground to sky.
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