Let there be light!
By: Sen. Richard T. Moore
September 6, 2011 ... "Fiat Lux!" Is Latin for "Let there be light," and it is the motto of my alma mater, Clark University. In view of the performance of National Grid and other electric utilities in the region, it might be a good motto for our utilities to follow as well.
The many areas residents who experienced a loss of power in the aftermath of "Hurricane Irene," certainly appreciate how vital electricity has become for our quality of life, health, and safety. The utilities seem more concerned with saving investor dollars and company profits than in customer service.
No doubt, we are all appreciative of the efforts of the utility workers, some who came a considerable distance from other states, to work to re-connect us to the power grid. We are, especially, grateful to our local police, fire, highway, and other personnel for their outstanding response and recovery efforts.
However, there are many questions about the emergency planning and response efforts of the senior management of the public utilities that serve South Central Massachusetts. Could more have been done to prepare for a prompt return of electric power to homes and small businesses given the significant warning given by our weather forecasters? That is the essence of the question that my constituents are asking, and that I will convey to our Senate Post Audit and Legislative Oversight Committee and to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in the coming weeks.
In an era when many taxpayers want less government, we might ask why it appears that municipally-owned electric utilities seemed especially responsive to the damage caused by the storm. The media reported that Wellesley, Belmont, and Concord, who run their own utilities complete with crews ready to make repairs at a moment's notice, swiftly restored power to their residents while nearby towns served by investor-owned utilities waited nearly a week, in some cases, for their power to be restored.
Other questions to be answered should focus on the tree-trimming efforts of utilities to remove old trees and limbs that could pose a risk to electric wires in high winds, or whether enough transformers or other equipment was close at hand for repair crews? While the president of National Grid, in an op-ed, proudly noted that the company had contacted utilities in the Midwest to arrange for extra help, did the utility wait until a day or more after the storm to ask them to drive hundreds of miles further delaying restoration of power?
One of the most frequent complaints that I received was the lack of communication and of specific repair schedules. A Douglas resident reported that he received a "robo call" telling him that his power had been restored, yet he was still sitting in a darkened house. When others were finally able to get through to a human voice, they received little helpful information.
Hurricane season lasts until November, and then winter storms pose a new threat. We know that we can be hit by extreme weather almost anytime. After all, this is New England! So why can't our public utilities be better prepared?