Cleanup con­tin­ues

Of­fi­cials voice frus­tra­tion over Na­tional Grid re­sponse

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By RUSS OLIVO ro­[email protected]­et­

WOONSOCKET — As thou­sands of Na­tional Grid cus­tomers spent their third full day with­out power, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee yes­ter­day crit­i­cized the com­pany for re­spond­ing too slowly af­ter a mon­ster storm wiped out elec­tri­cal ser­vice across a wide swath of the Ocean State and neigh­bor­ing Mas­sachusetts.

“I am very con­cerned that Mas­sachusetts was able to re­solve their 282,000 to­tal out­ages down to 34,000 while in Rhode Is­land, our 154,000 to­tal out­ages have only been re­duced to 38,000,” McKee said in a state­ment late yes­ter­day morn­ing. “That ra­tio doesn’t work for Rhode Is­landers.”

In a pre­pared re­sponse to McKee, Na­tional Grid did its best to put a pos­i­tive spin on the sit­u­a­tion.

“Over the past two days we’ve re­stored power to more than 120,000 res­i­den­tial and busi­ness cus­tomers,” Na­tional Grid spokesman Ted Kresse said. “Na­tional Grid’s top pri­or­ity and to­tal fo­cus right now is get­ting those who still re­main with­out power back up and run­ning.”

McKee’s state­ment was based on fig­ures from Na­tional Grid’s web­site as it ap­peared on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, but closer to press time the fastchang­ing data sug­gested the com­pany was on pace to fin­ish the day with fewer than 30,000 ratepay­ers still

“I am very con­cerned that Mas­sachusetts was able to re­solve their 282,000 to­tal out­ages down to 34,000 while in Rhode Is­land, our 154,000 to­tal out­ages have only been re­duced to 38,000. That ra­tio doesn’t work for Rhode Is­landers.” —Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee

with­out power.

Most of those who re­mained with­out power were in Washington County, but Prov­i­dence County was run­ning a close sec­ond, with 10,133 still with­out power. Washington County had 10,133 and Kent County, 9,693. By com­par­i­son, cus­tomers in Bris­tol and New­port coun­ties were far­ing far bet­ter, with 1,322 and 189 cus­tomers, re­spec­tively, still with­out elec­tric­ity in those ar­eas.

Be­fore the restora­tion process be­gan, Na­tional Grid said the out­ages rep­re­sented nearly a third of the util­ity com­pany’s cus­tomer base of roughly 490,000 in the Ocean State, and the com­pany made it plain that it would take days to fully re­store ser­vice, ask­ing for pa­tience.

By Tues­day, how­ever, Na­tional Grid was pre­dict­ing that the last of those af­fected, most of them in out­ly­ing, ru­ral zones, would prob­a­bly be back to nor­mal by to­day – to­mor­row at the lat­est.

The or­deal be­gan around mid­night Sun­day, when a cold front mov­ing into the re­gion from the west got a shot of en­ergy from the re­mains of Trop­i­cal Storm Phillipe, which had been mov­ing up from the south. The two sys­tems con­verged to form a su­per­storm with gusts in the range of 60-70 mph that reached ev­ery in­land cor­ner of the state and even stronger winds along the coast. The winds mixed with soak­ing rains – nearly five inches in a mat­ter of hours in some parts of the state.

The hur­ri­cane-like storm top­pled trees and branches into power lines en masse – the chief cause of the out­ages through­out the state. Na­tional Grid said more cus­tomers lost power in the storm than dur­ing Su­per­storm Sandy in 2012 and the 2015 “mi­croburst” that struck the War­wick area.

McKee isn’t the only elected of­fi­cial to com­plain that Na­tional Grid’s re­ac­tion to the cri­sis was flawed. Ear­lier this week Gov. Gina Rai­mondo called the com­pany’s re­sponse “flat-footed.”

The for­mer mayor of Cum­ber­land, McKee said his re­marks were di­rected at the com­pany in his ca­pac­ity as the chair­man of both the Emer­gency Man­age­ment Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil and the Small Busi­ness Ad­vo­cacy Coun­cil.

“I’ve been work­ing with mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers and our Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency to help Rhode Is­landers nav­i­gate this week’s power out­age,” he said. “Our lo­cal econ­omy has been dev­as­tated by the af­ter­math of this storm. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are fac­ing in­creases in costs for pub­lic safety over­time and the ex­ten­sion of the school year. Small busi­nesses have lost thou­sands of dol­lars and Rhode Is­land fam­i­lies are still deal­ing with sig­nif­i­cant hard­ships."

The lieu­tenant gov­er­nor said he’s heard from many mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers and small busi­ness own­ers who are dis­ap­pointed in Na­tional Grid’s han­dling of the mass out­age. He said their mes­sage was “loud and clear – the commu- nica­tion be­tween Na­tional Grid and ratepay­ers was in­suf­fi­cient and in­con­sis­tent.”

He said the com­pany’s re­sponse in­di­cates “a dire need for util­ity ac­count­abil­ity.” Dur­ing the next ses­sion of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly, McKee said, he would once again in­tro­duce a “Ratepayer Pro­tec­tion Leg­isla­tive Pack­age” that re­quires all pub­lic util­i­ties to pro­vide prompt and ad­e­quate cus­tomer ser­vice to ratepay­ers.

The new bill would cre­ate a mech­a­nism to en­sure busi­nesses, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and fam­i­lies are pro­tected when Rhode Is­land ex­pe­ri­ences a wide­spread power out­age, McKee said, but he did not elab­o­rate. Fol­low Russ Olivo on Twit­ter @rus­so­livo

Ernest A. Brown/The Times

Na­tional Grid crews were work­ing to re­store power in the Dar­ling­ton sec­tion of Paw­tucket, pic­tured here, and parts of Lin­coln and Cum­ber­land, as well Wed­nes­day. Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from through­out the state, in­clud­ing Gov. Gina Rai­mondo, and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, had words of crit­i­cism for Na­tional Grid’s re­sponse to the dam­ag­ing storm.

Ernest A. Brown/The Times

Na­tional Grid crews were back at it Wed­nes­day work­ing to re­store power in the Dar­ling­ton sec­tion of Paw­tucket.

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