For Immediate Release - October 31, 2011

GOVERNOR PATRICK MEETS WITH UTILITY COMPANY OFFICIALS ON STORM AND POWER RECOVERY EFFORTS

Utilities urged to keep customers informed and updated on expected recovery times

Storm Recoverny

Governor Patrick holds a media availability at the MEMA headquarters in Framingham to discuss storm recovery and power restoration efforts.(Photo: Matt Bennett/Governor's Office)

Click here to view the press conference 

FRAMINGHAM – Monday, October 31, 2011 – Governor Deval Patrick this morning met with officials from the state’s four investor-owned utility companies at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) storm bunker in Framingham. During the meeting, Governor Patrick and his emergency management team received a full briefing on the status of power outages and restoration efforts in the wake of the October 29 snowstorm, which caused major damage in several areas of the state, particularly in western and central Massachusetts.

“The utility companies need to remember the lessons of Irene, and keep customers informed about when they can expect power restored,” said Governor Patrick. “Running a household or a business with the lights out is hard enough without being in the dark on when to expect relief.”

On October 29, Governor Patrick declared a state of emergency in response to the effects of the storm, which, as of 9 a.m. today, has left 519,450 customers without power statewide – 334,646 National Grid customers; 120,399 Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO) customers; 46,000 NSTAR customers and 18,405 Unitil customers. Outages are down 23 percent (152,144) from a high Sunday of 671,594. The state of emergency remains in effect to access resources needed to assist in the recovery efforts.

"This historic October storm has left people without power at a time when temperatures are dropping, putting families and senior citizens at risk,” said Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, who also attended the meeting.  “As we assist municipalities and businesses across the state to get back on their feet, we are also urging residents to take steps to stay safe and warm, and to assist neighbors in need.”

Utility company officials this morning reported that it could be several days before power is restored in some areas. Officials noted that, unlike Tropical Storm Irene, which took down many large transmission lines, this pre-Halloween snowstorm damaged many more small distribution lines, requiring a more labor-intensive -- and likely longer -- restoration effort.

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is closely monitoring utilities’ restoration efforts, and demanding that they improve in areas such as communicating with cities and towns, deploying sufficient restoration crews, and providing more transparent and faster Estimated Times of Restoration (ETR) for their customers. 

Utility officials today reported to Governor Patrick efforts resulting in the web posting of ETRs approximately 24 hours earlier than occurred after Irene. NSTAR, National Grid, WMECO and Unitil began posting ETRs Sunday night, or are in the process of doing so today.   

The companies also reported that 1,470 crews are working to clear lines and make repairs to power infrastructure across the state, with additional crews expected in the next 24-48 hours. Crews from Missouri, Mississippi, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Alabama and Michigan have been deployed in Massachusetts to assist.

In response to customer and municipal concerns following Irene, DPU launched a review of storm preparation and power restoration efforts by two of the state’s investor-owned utilities – NSTAR and National Grid. Public hearings as part of that review are currently underway in both companies’ service territories. 

“Taking lessons learned from Tropical Storm Irene, it is essential that utility companies keep in close contact with emergency response officials in cities and towns and their customers in the hours and days ahead,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. “Our DPU will be monitoring their efforts to ensure that information is flowing and that electric service is restored in a timely and reasonable manner.”

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) have deployed saw team crews in the field assisting communities. Crews are focused on clearing roads and cutting trees lying across power lines.

"MassHighway and MBTA crews are deploying across the Commonwealth to clear trees and debris from our secondary routes,” said MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey. “These crews are also assisting other agencies with clean up efforts and will be available until the job is done."

The Massachusetts National Guard has approximately 300 personnel on duty.  Air and Army Guard engineers continue to support local authorities conducting debris clearing operations on main roads in the towns of Easthampton, Wilbraham, Barre, Northboro, Southbridge, Oxford, Hampden, Oakham, Holland, Springfield, and West Springfield. 

In order to coordinate the response to this event, MEMA activated the State Emergency Operations Center in Framingham and it will remain activated 24/7 until further notice.  

“The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will continue to coordinate with local public safety officials across the Commonwealth to ensure that they have all the assets and resources required to meet the needs of their residents resulting from this historic weather event,” said MEMA Director Kurt Schwartz.

The American Red Cross and numerous communities have opened shelters and warming centers in impacted areas. Residents requiring shelter should contact their local public safety officials, or call 2-1-1 for local shelter information.

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