Officials voice frustration over National Grid response
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
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