For nearly 90,000 utility customers, feeling of powerlessness persists
MARSHFIELD -- Northeast Utilities chief executive Tom May, an interview with the Globe Monday, said the company’s NStar unit has been hampered by weather in trying to restore power to customer’s following this weekend’s snowstorm, but said the overall response has been a success story, thanks in part to last year’ merger between NStar and Northeast Utilities.
Because of that partnership, May said, NStar has been able to call on other Northeast Utilities resources from Connecticut, as well as crews from the company’s other utilities, Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and Public Service of New Hampshire.
“We have no shortage,” May said. “They’re here helping us out.”
NStar said just over 67,000 customers were still without power shortly before 6 p.m. Monday, down from a peak of about 250,000. National Grid reported about 20,000 customers still without power, down from a peak of 170,000. National Grid said it will restore power to all customers by Tuesday; NStar said it will need until Thursday.
May said he understands customer’s frustrations, and NStar’s crews are feeling it to. Gesturing around at the slack wires hanging from poles on Brook Street here, May said the weather -- especially the heavy piles of dense snow -- have definitely slowed NStar’s efforts
“It’s just a different storm. When we talked about super storm Sandy, at least the next day we could go out and start hanging wire,” May said, but in this storm “we couldn’t even get into neighborhoods like this.”
May dismissed criticism -- leveled by US Representative William R. Keating, who represents the area -- that NStar has communicated poorly with customers on when their power might be restored.
“If Congresssman Keating talks to the towns folk, he’ll find out we’ve got people in every one of these towns,” May said.
But Keating, who doesn’t have power at his Bourne home, visited a shelter in Marshfield with Governor Deval Patrick Monday and said he and other residents have gotten little information from NStar.
Responding to May, Keating said, “It’s not just enough to put someone there. You have to allow them to share the information they have.”
Speaking from Pembroke during an 11 a.m. conference call, National Grid’s Massachusetts president, Marcy Reed, said the utility has 850 crews working on the South Shore, where several hard hit communities remained powerless, including Norwell, Scituate, Pembroke, Cohasset, Hanson, Halifax, Hanover, and Bridgewater.
“I recognize that 23,800 customers still don’t have their lights on and that means cold houses, dark houses,” Reed said. “Our challenges for today are accessing some of the side roads, and cul-de-sac roads and even, frankly, some main roads where trees are down.”
Many fallen wires, were tangled in trees, she said, and the dense snow made reaching some equipment difficult. Officials were also monitoring today’s rain, which could hamper restoration efforts, or cause new outages if it freezes after falling. For the most part, however, temperatures are starting to moderate throughout the region.
As crews are working, Reed said, residents may notice seemingly idle utility trucks in some areas. She said that’s because teams have pre-arranged checkpoints, such as the dog track in Raynham and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough -- where they gather to get their daily orders, restock on equipment, or park while off-duty.
“They’re on Day Three working 18-hour shifts,” Reed said. “I appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through every one of the 23,800 customers.”Erin Ailworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.