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Utility Storm Response: Better, But Not Perfect

BOSTON — The majority of Massachusetts residents who lost power due to Sandy now have the lights back on. As of Thursday morning, there were about 19,000 customers still without power — down from approximately 400,000 at the peak of the storm. (Outages: NStarNat. GridWMECO)

The two major power companies in the state — National Grid and NStar — say they have serviced customers faster during this storm than in previous outages. But some city and town managers and customers say they are not entirely satisfied with the response.

Better, But Not Perfect

The phone at the Newton mayor’s office was ringing frequently on Wednesday with residents asking when their power would be back on. Mayor Setti Warren agrees that NStar has reacted faster to this storm than it did during the last two, but he says it’s still not perfect.

“We appreciate the fact that they do have a liaison, a real-life person we can talk to and communicate with and that has been an improvement,” Warren said. “What’s critical now is that we get real-time information on restoration [and] our residents do as well.”

Warren says even closer coordination is needed between the town’s tree crews and NStar’s electric crews.

“We need to make sure that we know when their crews are on route or present so that our crews can do our work around trees and wires,” Warren said.

More than two dozen streets in Newton were shut down Wednesday because of downed trees and wires.

Brad Bray lives in West Newton and was still waiting for his power to be restored Wednesday.

“I have no idea when power is coming on so I don’t think there is any communication at this point,” Bray said. “It took a neighbor last night putting in some calls just to get a tree removed off of our neighbor’s house.”

Both of the large power companies that service eastern Massachusetts say they have worked more quickly to restore service during this storm than in the past. They credit their improved response to being prepared with more crews that were able to assess damage more quickly. Gov. Deval Patrick praised them for their speed.

“I don’t think anyone is prepared to declare a total victory, but [there's been] tremendous progress since the peak,” Patrick said.

While the utility companies have touted the creation of a new position, a community liaison to have more direct connection with cities and town, not every customer is satisfied. Paul Moruzzi was still waiting for National Grid to restore power to his Upton home Wednesday.

“The most frustrating thing is they still haven’t made any real progress in getting information out to customers,” Moruzzi said. “And it would be better if they just said, ‘Well, we don’t know. They should all be back on within, you know, three days.’ ”

Marcy Reed, president of National Grid, says she knows the community liaison position can be improved.

“In some towns we still have some bugs to work out about how that data is flowing from our operations center back in our platforms and to the community liaison,” Reed said. “So although I’m quite pleased with community liaison process that we put in place this time, and I think it’s paying some dividends, we certainly have discovered over the last couple of day that we have room for improvement, some bugs to work out.”

Reed says as soon as the National Grid crews are done helping Massachusetts customers, many will offer their services to help power companies in New York and New Jersey.

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