Rhode Islanders, like all New Englanders, know well the disruptive power of nature. The nor’easters that descended on the region in early March were evidence enough of that.
The powerful storm of Oct. 29-30 of last year, however, brought even more havoc. Thousands lost electricity amid sustained wind gusts of 40-50 mph, and many remained in the dark for days. Downed trees and power lines rendered many local roads impassable.
In the aftermath of the storm, calls were made for a review of National Grid’s response. Now, the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers has released a report, prepared by the firm PowerServices Inc., that finds National Grid clearly fell short. Its language is often sharply critical.
“National Grid … failed to recognize the expanded impact of the storm in a reasonably timely manner and, therefore, neither classified the storm event properly nor took action in a manner that would allow it to have adequate resources in place at the time they were most needed,” the report’s conclusion reads. “This resulted in an extended restoration duration of as much as 36 hours.”
The report acknowledges other utilities similarly did not foresee the severity of the storm, and that the scale of the damage was immense. In Rhode Island, more than 144,000 outages were reported at the storm’s peak, and more than 176,000 customers lost power at some point. The document also offers praise for the conduct of crews who worked tirelessly to restore power.
It adds, however: “Although there will always be a balance between restoration duration speed and cost which can be second guessed, in storms such as the October 2017 storm, clear deficiencies in actions and many inactions by [National Grid] which should have been avoided are identified.”
The report’s harshest criticism relates to National Grid’s cooperation with PowerServices in reviewing the storm response. One passage reads: “National Grid’s severe delays in producing data can only be interpreted as an effort to create barriers to the investigation. We believe [National Grid] was delaying and impeding the process to enable [National Grid] to complete its own report prior to the completion of the PowerServices report.”
The report cites a number of issues, including problems with the estimated restoration times provided to customers and delays in the mobilization of additional personnel to respond to outages. The summary offers several recommendations, including the acquisition of improved weather- forecasting tools, improvements in communication regarding the severity of outages and enhanced vegetation management.
In a release regarding the report, Gov. Gina Raimondo states that she has “directed DPUC to require the utility to provide monthly progress reports.”
“Unfortunately, because of climate change, storms like the one we saw in October will continue to hit Rhode Island with more and more frequency. National Grid needs to be better prepared to weather our new climate,” Raimondo said. “Shortly after this storm, National Grid asked ratepayers for a rate increase. I will do everything in my power to prevent any increase unless it includes significant investment from Grid’s shareholders in modern infrastructure to reduce the number of outages in future storms and speed up restoration efforts.”
Rhode Islanders are used to dealing with intense, fast-changing, disruptive weather. We know that nature’s power can be neither fully predicted nor fully prepared for.
But we deserve better from National Grid than the findings set out in DPUC’s report. We hope the company’s leaders, and our elected officials, will help ensure situations like last October’s storm are more effectively responded to going forward.