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Utilities show no mercy

Thursday, May 10, 2012

All Massachusetts cities and towns served by large utilities like Nstar will continue to be at their “mercy” until the Legislature passes Rep. Jay Kaufman’s muni-choice bill (“Official: City at ‘mercy’ of Nstar,” May 9). And the language must be fair: Cities and towns that wish to form their own utility should not have to overpay for Nstar’s equipment, and existing municipal utilities should not be forced to do things that are not necessary — they already promote energy efficiencies and green power. But large utilities that cannot keep the lights on have powerful lobbyists — so powerful the muni-choice bill has been languishing for a decade.

— Patrick Mehr, Lexington

The writer is director of Mass. Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice.
Official: City at ‘mercy’ of Nstar

By Dave Wedge and Richard Weir

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A noon blackout caused by a trouble-plagued Back Bay substation yesterday had city officials on edge, demanding answers from power giant Nstar and fearing summer energy demands may strain the already faltering grid.

Electricity was knocked out in the Back Bay to 12,000 customers yesterday due to a problem at the same Scotia Street substation where a transformer exploded in March, knocking out power for days to thousands. Electricity was restored yesterday within an hour — but not before residents, businesses and city officials suffered blackout flashbacks.

“We’re at their mercy,” City Council President Stephen J. Murphy said about Nstar, the city’s electrical supplier. “We want to know how much effort is being made to make sure catastrophic events like what happened in March don’t happen again.”

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he’s still waiting for a report from the March outage — and raised concerns about the ability to distribute electricity in the city going forward.

“Of course the mayor is always concerned when there are significant blackouts like we had (yesterday),” Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce said. “Businesses rely on these services, and we cannot allow this type of uncertainty in our downtown area.”

Nstar spokesman Michael Durand said Nstar was still investigating yesterday’s blackout and had no immediate explanation.

After the March blackout, the Herald reported that the city does not inspect the thousands of transformers across Boston. The substations are inspected only by Nstar, which files reports with the state. The City Council has set a hearing later this month on the March blackout and the inspection of Nstar equipment.

“The fact we don’t inspect their facilities is problematic,” Murphy said. “We should be able to independently guarantee safety and reliability. And right now we can’t.”

Durand said the transformer that fried in the March mishap is still being repaired. “We have a comprehensive, effective maintenance and upgrade program across our service area that addresses all of our equipment,” he said.

Back Bay denizens — many of whom were hit hard by the March blackout — felt a sense of deja vu yesterday. Jen Cahill, who works for an ad agency on Huntington Avenue, said she “got scared” and hurried down 16 flights of stairs to escape the suddenly pitch-black building. “We were like, ‘Oh God, not again,’ ” Cahill said.