Since at least Mark Twain, people have accepted that crappy weather and New England go together. Now, thanks to UK-based National Grid (can you picture “British” and “advanced engineering” together or “UK” and “superior service” on the same bill?), “third-world power distribution grid” and New England have come to be linked in people’s minds.
In case you need a refresher, in August, 2011, Hurricane Irene blew through central Massachusetts and 400,000 plus National Grid customers lost power, some for almost a week. (We were out 37 hours.) In October, 2011, a nor’easter blew though Massachusetts and, surprise!, 400,000 plus National Grid customers lost power.
National Grid can’t control the weather. I understand that. But apparently, they can’t control their grid either. The same areas, in approximately the same proportions, were affected in both storms. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
A post-storm driving tour I took in August matched up perfectly with the tour I took today: cross from Southborough into Framingham and you move from no power to power. Cross from Southborough into Hopkinton, you get power. The difference? Hopkinton and Framingham are not National Grid service areas. How could the weather be so significantly different in those two communities from the weather in Southborough twice in 90 days? Answer: it can’t.
Worse, National Grid is repeating its ham-handed handling of pr with this outage. In August, I tweeted two screenshots from their outage website. One showed that after about 32 hours of outage, National Grid was still “assessing” the situation. Here’s the screenshot from their website for today’s outage:
It’s now 22 hours after the start of the outage in Southborough. And nobody at National Grid has assessed the conditions in Southborough yet? I and most of the town were out early today, cleaning up downed tree limbs and assessing our properties. I live off of Route 85 (on which there were no operable traffic signals). Does National Grid expect us to believe they couldn’t get a truck through the the heart of Southborough to determine the problems and use that info to update their website?
In August, 92% of Southborough lost power.
Remarkably, today 91% of Southborough lost power:
This speaks volumes to me. National Grid did nothing to improve its distribution network after the major outage resulting from Irene.
In public communications, National Grid continues to prefer bromides (“We’re working as hard as we can”) to actual information. I called the Southborough Police in August and today, asked what they’d heard from National Grid and got the same answer both times: “We have no information from them.”
I think the picture is pretty clear: a broken-down UK utility has bought up US utilities from New York to New England and operates them with minimal investment and maintenance in order to maximize profits. Meanwhile, they rely on the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to continue to suffer from a classic case of regulatory capture to avoid having to operate and invest in the system in a way that would minimize disruption from severe weather.
It’s shocking that a public utility can away with repeatedly exploiting its customers, manipulating its regulators and avoiding accountability in crisis situations.