One year ago today,
The storm left much of Foxborough and surrounding towns powerless for days, leaving thousands in the dark and residents and town officials without answers. The lack of communication from National Grid to communities during the power outages
Residents said many local businesses that were closed and unable to operate had their calls to National Grid go unanswered or answered ambiguously with responses like "power could be restored by the weekend."
Senator James Timilty heard “countless stories” from residents and town officials “detailing the overwhelming challenges” Foxborough faced following the tropical storm and expressed his own outrage for how National Grid treated the communities he represents.
during a public hearing held at Attleboro High School with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. It was the issues of preventive tree-trimming, lack of communication and the extended duration of the outages that proved to be a recurring theme from those who addressed the DPU.
National Grid Massachusetts President Marcy Reed read the following prepared statement at the hearing: "Irene was forecasted to affect most of the eastern seaboard and ultimately caused widespread destruction from the Carolinas to New England. As a result of Irene, over six million electric customers in 11 states were left without power. This is why it was so difficult to obtain the number of outside crews we needed, since many other utilities form Florida to Maine needed to keep their own crews in place to restore power locally. We had to call for crews from as far away as Texas, Colorado, Michigan, Wisonsin and Canada," Reed said.
That wasn’t good enough for many in attendance, including Foxborough selectman James DeVellis, who told DPU, “much of Foxborough was without power from Aug. 28 to Sept. 3.”
"We want to impose substantial penalties on National Grid for failure to trim trees and failure to communicate,” DeVellis said. “Customers should not have to pay for National Grid's deficiencies."
As a result of the utility company’s “inadequate response” in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, – the largest penalty ever recommended against a utility in Massachusetts.
According to the AG’s brief, National Grid officials violated four separate storm response obligations under the company’s emergency response plan (ERP) including:
- Failing to communicate effectively with customers and municipalities throughout the two major storms;
- Failing to provide timely damage assessments;
- Failing to properly staff for the two emergency events; and
- Failing to respond to public safety calls about downed wires.
The penalties, if passed would not affect National Grid customers and would have to be borne on shareholders.
Foxborough Town Manager that the town seeing any type of reimbursement from this fine is unlikely – at least not any time soon – because National Grid plans to appeal the AG’s decision.
“That fine is not yet finalized because it is appealable to DPU and National Grid has appealed it or announced they plan to,” Paicos said.
In a press release Monday, National Grid highlighted what it has implemented to be more prepared and better serve its customers since Irene:
- A review of every National Grid employee’s storm assignment to maximize their ability to contribute during storms and to help expedite restoration. Particular attention was paid to enhancing resources to support wires down and damage assessment.
- An enhanced damage assessment process that will enable information from the field to be gathered more rapidly, which, coupled with data from existing outage reporting systems will allow National Grid to more quickly and accurately determine where to send crews. This, in turn, will enable the company to determine estimated restoration times faster for customers and communities.
- Expanding contractor relationships that cover a wider geographic area. This effort is focused on contractors in the Midwest and South to increase flexibility and responsiveness in any type of storm. National Grid also has established standardized processes and methods to ensure that contractors are available and ready when needed and to speed deployment of their crews to the field once they arrive.
- A “community liaison” program in which a company representative is assigned to every affected community during a storm to provide community officials direct contact with the company. The company has a corps of trained community liaisons ready to be deployed during future storms and emergencies.
“Since last fall we have conducted a comprehensive review of our approach to storm response that includes significant input from customers, local and state elected and public safety officials to identify and address areas for improvement. We have made good progress and are working hard to do better,” said Marcy Reed, president of National Grid in Massachusetts. “These changes, combined with investing nearly $500 million this year in our Massachusetts electric system to maintain it and strengthen its reliability, will help us better serve customers and be better prepared for what Mother Nature may bring.”
National Grid also is collaborating with local communities on aggressive tree trimming to help limit outages during future weather events. It has enhanced management of wires down situations to free-up local police and fire and has improved dispatching and tracking of outside crews to speed restoration. The company has enhanced customer communication and engagement and will reach out to customers as severe weather approaches to advise them of potential outages and has expanded its use of social media sources to communicate with customers. Providing more extensive notification of impending severe weather to cities and towns and more channels through which municipalities can communicate with the company also is part of the company’s enhanced storm preparation plan.
There were 7,820 National Grid customers in town when Tropical Storm Irene hit.
So Foxborough, we want to know …
Today’s question: What do you remember about Tropical Storm Irene and the days you endured without power? What was the first thing you did when power came back on? Do you believe National Grid has taken the necessary steps for better response during the next storm?
Share your Irene stories in the comments section below!
Timeline of Tropical Storm Irene
According to National Grid figures, approximately 80 percent of the town was left powerless for three days after the storm hit on Aug. 28, 2011. Power wasn't fully restored in Foxborough until Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011.
Here’s a look at the timeline of Tropical Storm Irene:
- Aug. 28, 2011 – Tropical Storm Irene hit Foxborough.
- Aug. 28-30, 2011 – 80 percent of Foxborough without power.
- Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011 – Power restored to Gillette Stadium, Patriot Place and a section of Route 1 because the stadium has two electrical feeds. The Patriots spent millions of dollars when they built Gillette Stadium to ensure backup power after experiencing a blackout during the 1996 AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the old Foxboro Stadium. One feed comes from Foxborough, the other from Wrentham, providing a backup in case of a power outage. The feed went live early Tuesday. … Kraft Organization donates two, 900-kilowatt generators to help power the senior centers in town. Kraft Organization also sets up lighting towers at key intersections in town and donates large amounts of ice to be distributed outside of Foxborough Public Safety Building.
- Wednesday, Aug. 31 2011 – Power was restored to 20 percent of Foxborough.
- Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011 – Power was restored to 95 percent of Foxborough.
- Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 – Power fully restored in Foxborough.
Note: Courtney Jansson contributed to this report.