By Kendall Hatch
December 16, 2011
MARLBOROUGH —Area residents peppered National Grid officials with questions last night on the time it took to restore power to the region after two recent storms.
Four representatives from National Grid, which provides power to Marlborough and other area towns, attended the community forum called by state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton.
The Department of Public Utilities has been holding its own public hearings to address customer frustrations over lengthy power failures following Tropical Storm Irene in late August and the late October nor’easter. Some places, like Northborough, lost power for several days.
“We obviously do recognize the frustration,” said Joseph Newman, National Grid’s vice president of government affairs in Massachusetts.
He said the utility is working on a second report for the state on its response to Irene and a first report on its response to the October snowstorm.
Newman said the company is also preparing a list of action items with ways the utility can improve operations in future power failures.
One of the measures National Grid undertook in the two recent storms was establish liaisons in affected towns and cities as a way to improve communication.
He said the company also wants to equip contractors brought in from outside the state with GPS units so the company can track and deploy crews more effectively.
Newman said a major component will be getting municipal employees more involved, both by instituting a web-based system that will allow local officials to track progress, and also by meeting with them to provide a better understanding of the grid system and how repairs are addressed.
Newman also said the company needs to improve its ability to accurately predict when customers’ power will be restored, as well as work on the capabilities of damage assessment teams that hit the streets right after a storm.
Some attendees last night, including City Councilor Ed Clancy, criticized the company for not being more proactive in its tree pruning as a way to prevent power failures.
Kathy Lyford, National Grid’s New England vice president of operations, said the company tries to prune trees as much as possible, but often finds its hands tied when trees hanging over lines are on private property.
Westborough Town Manager Jim Malloy said National Grid’s pruning activities have declined over the last 10 years and, given electricity rates in the Northeast, the company should be doing more.
Eldridge, joined at the forum by state Rep. Steven Levy, R-Marlborough, said the Legislature may draft a bill to try to improve utility response time during future power failures.