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Bridgewater eyes dropping National Grid for another utility

By Amy Carboneau
Enterprise Staff Writer
Sep 01, 2011

BRIDGEWATER — Town Manager Troy Clarkson said Wednesday he may explore whether the town can drop National Grid in favor of another utility after what officials called the company’s woeful response to power outages caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

“This has given us pause to really consider that,” Clarkson said about National Grid’s response, “... if the laws of the commonwealth allow us.”

The storm hit Sunday morning, but Clarkson said Tuesday just one repair crew was sent to a town of 9,000 customers and that was not until Sunday night.

Seventy-two hours after Irene stormed through Massachusetts on Sunday, 99,000 residents remained without power statewide as of Wednesday afternoon, said National Grid spokeswoman Vanessa Charles.

According to Charles, that number had dropped significantly since the storm’s height on Sunday, which left nearly 500,000 customers without power across the Bay State.

“We’re working as quickly as we can,” Charles said, adding crews have been working night and day to turn the lights back on.

According to Catherine Williams, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Utilities, communities have two options in opting out of National Grid coverage:

The town can invite competitive suppliers to town, which would then purchase the power from National Grid and resell it, leaving National Grid to still be the first responder in times of disaster.

The other avenue, said Williams, is to add a municipal source of power, which would require Town Council approval. Twenty municipalities in Massachusetts have municipal plants and are members of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co., or MMWEC.

The Massachusetts president of National Grid, Marcy Reed, met with Bridgewater state Rep. Angelo D’Emelia, Clarkson and Bridgewater’s fire and police officials Wednesday evening, and crews worked for nearly two hours to restore power to the middle school so public schools in Bridgewater and Raynham could open today.

“It meant a lot to us that she took the time to sit down with us,” Clarkson said about Reed.

After a “frank” discussion about National Grid’s response time, Clarkson said he felt better about the situation, but he would not rule out looking at other electricity providers.

D’Emelia had said Tuesday this storm was not the first time National Grid provided slow response in the wake of a storm.

“And here we are again,” he said.

Charles, who spoke for National Grid, maintained that crews were well-prepared for the storm, but saw much more damage than expected.

“The storm hit literally every part of the commonwealth. We saw hundreds of wires down, we saw hundreds of trees down,” Charles said. “This was not your typical nor’easter that we’re used to seeing here.

“I understand that customers are understandably frustrated,” she added. “Electricity is a vital part of life, but we are working around the clock.”

Stoughton, Easton weigh in

David Colton, town administrator in Easton, said he also might “take a look at any and all options to improve service” once power has been restored, but he declined to specify how services could be improved.

Stoughton Town Manager Francis Crimmins said Stoughton also uses National Grid, but declined comment until the town is past the problems at hand. “We’re still trying to get power restored to the people in Stoughton,” Crimmins said. “One step at a time.”

Amy Carboneau may be reached at