Pasted Graphic

Lexington residents want better results from NSTAR

By Marc Filippino/
Lexington Minuteman
Nov 08, 2012

Lexington — Last week, winds from Hurricane Sandy knocked down dozens of power lines leaving thousands of residents here without power. Now, some Lexingtonians are questioning the effectiveness and response time of utility company NSTAR.

On Nov.1, Patrick Mehr, a Woodhaven resident and Precinct 3 Town Meeting member, sent a complaint email to NSTAR’s Lexington liaison, Marc Lucas, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Consumer Complaints Division. Mehr cited NSTAR as providing “substandard service” during Sandy and last year’s October storm.

Mehr said he lost power for 47 hours and 15 minutes starting on Oct. 29 at 4 p.m. He said he did not contact NSTAR to complain about the linemen or truck crews.

“My concern is with NSTAR’s lack of planning of the infrastructure upgrades and insufficient lineman staffing,” Mehr said in his letter. “NSTAR had to rely on a North Attleboro municipal utility bucket truck crew to address a significant outage [Nov. 1] at 2 p.m. on 17 Shade St.”

Tom Fenn, a lawyer at a local law firm and a Shade Street resident, said the transformer on his block is extremely fickle and shorts out twice a year, leaving 35 households without power, typically in winter. Fenn said his street is usually the last to be visited because of its low population.

“I understand the power is going to go out during a hurricane, but the response time is dependant on the nature of the equipment and the manpower, none of which are enough,” Fenn said.

NSTAR sees improvements

Despite the complaints, NSTAR officials are pleased with the improvement in communication with towns from last year’s storms.

NSTAR Spokesman Mike Durand said before Hurricane Sandy hit Massachusetts, the utility company began preparing for the superstorm. All 3,000 NSTAR employees were sent out as storm responders and 1,200 contractors from Florida, Texas, the Midwest, Washington and Massachusetts were ready the day before it struck.

“We have gotten significant positive response from the communities we serve and are seeing an improvement from a year ago,” Durand said. “After last year’s snowstorm in October, we spoke with our communities about what went well want needed improving.”

After Hurricane Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm NSTAR instituted an online alert system where customers could register outages on the NSTAR website.

“Our customers still like to call us, but the online outage reports have worked quite well,” Durand said. “We can know about outages quicker if we’re getting reports on our computers, laptops and smartphones.”

Durand said they would review the NSTAR’s response to Sandy and make adjustments based on customer feedback. Durand said NSTAR has heard from residents on Shade Street and will make the area part of its review.

“We are going to look at our response and there is always room to tweak,” Durand said. “We always take a step back because there is always something that needs a further refinement. Our primary focus is to work with town officials.”

Town Involvement

Town Manager Carl Valente said he was not impressed with NSTAR’s communication.

“It may have been an improvement from last year, but it was still not acceptable,” Valente said.

Valente said both the online outage report system and the liaison system that Durand had praised were ineffective and communication was slow and sometime nonexistent.

Valente said the online system was supposed to provide feedback to alert the user where the nearest cruiser was and how soon the outage would be fixed.

“We received no feedback,” Valente said. “We would fill in our information but their response was blank throughout the whole event.”

Valente added that NSTAR liaisons seemed to be operating without information about the location of crews in the district.

Valente said after the storm Bedford officials reached out to him to see if Lexington also had communication issues. He said after contacting officials from Weston, Sudbury and Weyland each community agreed that NSTAR’s communication was inefficient.

Now Valente said the communities are going to try and arrange a regional meeting with NSTAR officials.