Western Massachusetts utilities ready for power failures in anticipation of wintry mix
Published: Tuesday, February 01, 2011
By John Appleton, The Republican
Western Massachusetts power companies say they are ready with their regular crews and mutual aid agreements if necessary to deal with downed electrical lines that could result from Wednesday's expected storm, and they are advising customers to be prepared for losing electricity and to be careful near any downed lines or trees.
And they are keeping a close eye on weather forecasts.
At Western Massachusetts Electric Co., roughly 200 of the 330 employees work on power lines, and the rest have a specific storm role or assignment for days when there is the potential for power lines to come down because of icing, either on the lines themselves or on nearby tree limbs.
Some WMECO crews were scheduled to stay on duty at regional work centers in East Springfield, Hadley, Greenfield and Pittsfield if heavy icing were to start.
National Grid has rearranged its shifts in Massachusetts and neighboring states to provide coverage.
“We have crews available to handle any outages that result from today’s storm,” said National Grid senior vice president Christopher E. Root, said Tuesday.” We have also established shifts with 24-hour coverage to ensure we are able to respond to outages throughout the event.”
National Grid spokesperson Debbie Drew said, “We will have crews available in the event that we have outages Tuesday night and today. We do have the ability to move crews throughout our service territory and we have contractor crews that work with us as well. As we need more crews, we can call them in. If a large restoration is not needed, we can scale back the effort accordingly.”
Chicopee Electric Light crews fueled and stocked all repair trucks Tuesday and will be ready for what comes today, said James Lisowski, engineering and operations manager, for Chicopee’s municipal electric company.
“If we do get severe weather, we will go full-bore,” Lisowski said.
Chicopee Electric Light workers can be kept on for 16-hour shifts when necessary, with staggered rest periods to maintain coverage.
In the event that there are more outages from downed lines than individual companies can deal with using their own workers, they have mutual aid agreements and the ability to call in private contractors.
Chicopee Electric Light serves as regional coordinator for such agreements among municipal utilities in Western Massachusetts.
“If you are overwhelmed with a storm or whatever it is, you can make the call to the other municipal utilities. They would contact us. We would go to our contacts at the other municipals utilities and ask who can spare a crew to help,” Lisowski said.
“With a storm of this size, you would think that everyone would be in the same boat. But two years ago, it hit the Worcester hills region and others could send crews,” Lisowski said.
Lisowski spoke with confidence about Chicopee’s system because he said there has been an aggressive program of tree trimming over the past 20 years and the greatest hazard for power companies comes from downed trees and limbs near wires.
Representatives of the power companies recommend that people have flashlights, extra batteries and battery operated radios in case of power outages, and they urge anyone in a home with electrically operated life support to check batteries in advance.
“If someone calls and tells us they are out of power and they have a breathing machine or dialysis they will go to a priority. We will make every effort to put them number one on our list,” Lisowski said.
Representatives of the power companies are advising customers to call them if they experience power outages and not just assume that someone else has done so, and they also urge that calls be made by people to report downed lines they observe, but they ask that people who spot emergency situations call 911.
There are power outage locating maps on the web site of WMECO, www.wmeco.com, and National Grid, www.nationalgridus.com.
To report power outage: (413) 781-4300 or (877) 659-6326
Provider: National Grid
To report power outage: (800) 465-1212
Provider: Holyoke Gas & Electric:
Emergency service: (413) 536-9300
Provider: South Hadley Electric Light Department:
Emergency service: (413) 536-1050
Provider: Westfield Gas & Electric:
Emergency service: (413) 572-0000
Provider: Chicopee Electric Light
Emergency service: (413) 594 -581