Foxborough’s Board of Selectmen agreed Tuesday to file a formal complaint against National Grid following the power outages caused by Superstorm Sandy at the end of October.
“[We are going to] take the proactive step and draft a letter to the Department of Public Utilities and say we have a formal complaint [against National Grid],” said Foxborough Board of Selectmen chair James DeVellis. This is the third issue in one year and we need some answers.”
The decision comes two weeks after Foxborough officials expressed their frustrations with the utility company following the town’s third significant power outage caused by a storm in the past year.
The letter of complaint will be drafted by Town Counsel Richard Gelerman, reviewed and approved by selectmen and sent to the Department of Public Utilities.
“I thought [the public hearing with DPU] was effective last year,” DeVellis said. "Lynda [Walsh] went, I went and we testified to the DPU. I honestly think that was a big factor in the fines that were levied [against National Grid].”
DeVellis acknowledged National Grid made some improvements since last year’s storms but the town still endured a mass power outage while neighboring towns weathered Sandy fairly well.
“I’m prepared to go with a letter from the selectmen saying, ‘nice try, it was better service, nice people at National Grid, they sat with us but it was ineffective in the big picture because you look at Mansfield and you look at Walpole, you look at Wrentham … everyone around us had an easier time than Foxborough,” DeVellis said.
DeVellis said he invited National Grid president Marcy Reed, customer service manager Bob Russell and Foxborough liaison Tom Coughlin to Tuesday’s selectmen meeting but the utility company representatives declined to attend.
“They respectfully said no,” DeVellis said. “I don’t have a problem with them saying no because they are in the middle of a Nor’easter.”
Reed, according to DeVellis, said a private meeting between National Grid and the town would be more productive because the two sides can “speak freely with the cameras off.”
Selectman Lynda Walsh opposed any kind of meeting with National Grid because “sitting at the table with them isn’t going to do anything.”
“If they don’t want to come to the table then that’s fine,” Walsh said. “I think we should put together our thoughts and put it on the agenda and go again to the DPU hearings. … I don’t have anymore to say to them.”
Foxborough Town Manager Kevin Paicos said the problem remains with the union loop and that is where selectmen should focus their complaint to the DPU against National Grid.
“I think the one area [selectmen] need to explore is the union loop,” Paicos said. “The key problem we continue to experience is the union loop because it is an antiquated piece of transmission.”
Paicos said Foxborough’s concerns with the union loop has been identified by Gov. Deval Patrick as one of the two most significant power outage issues in the state and the town should take advantage of that in any upcoming DPU hearings.
“We’ve got it on the Governor’s radar screen,” Paicos said. “The Governor mentioned it in a post-storm speech. … I think if we drive that issue with the union loop, we are going to be well served in the future.”
Paicos also noted National Grid’s improvements in storm prep and response over the past year, but stressed the utility company’s failure to address the union loop is what caused the power outages at the end of October.
“I give National Grid credit, it did a lot of good tree work this summer and that wasn’t the problem this time,” Paicos said. “We had a few but it wasn’t a big problem. It wasn’t line crews. There were line crews here and they responded. There was a little gap at one point but within an hour or so they flooded the town with line crews. … The only key weakness left is this union loop.”
Paicos added he doesn’t expect National Grid to address the union loop deficiencies willingly, which is why we urged selectmen to go forward with a formal complaint to the DPU.
“It’s big bucks and not something they are going to do willingly,” Paicos said. “It’s something we are going to have the press the issue on with our neighboring communities because we are not the only ones affected. Five out of 12 sections of that union loop went down again and it’s because it is antiquated technology. Nobody strings cross-country transmission lines on telephone poles anymore.”
DeVellis and Walsh agreed the union loop is where the focus of the complaint needs to be.
“[The union loop] is an issue and it’s not being addressed as quickly as it should be,” DeVellis said. “It’s antiquated, it’s problematic and it affects us.”
Said Walsh: “The union loop has got to be addressed. If it can’t be fixed then just tell us it can’t be fixed and for the next 20 years the folks in Foxborough are going to lose power.”
. Some residents did not have their power restored until Nov. 1. Schools were also forced to close for two days.
“[We need to] put some pressure on National Grid through the DPU and put on record we weren’t happy with this,” DeVellis said.