Psst, PSNH, why not join the 21st century?
Infrastructure and plans are outdated
Late one night during the June deluge, I was about to turn in when we lost power. I have sleep apnea and rely on electricity to run my CPAP, a device (it looks like Darth Vader’s mask) that lets me breathe while I sleep. My apnea is so bad that without the CPAP I don’t bother going to bed.
After reading by head lamp in the dark for 45 minutes I called PSNH. Every time I’ve called about losing power, I’ve gotten a digital message prompting me to answer the reason for my call. I’d say “outage” and the message would verify that the company was aware of the problem and give an estimated time for the fix. But this one was different.
My call gave PSNH its primary notice for the outage. When your call is first, the digital message warns you that if PSNH sends someone to investigate and the problem is somewhere in your home, you’ll pay. The prompt then asks, “Are you sure you want to report an outage?”
I wasn’t. I turned off the battery-powered light, let my eyes adjust and looked through the window into the cloud covered pitch-black while listening to my neighbor’s back-up generator. I then checked the electrical circuits. From what I could see none were tripped. At that point I realized I was the “smart” part of the PSNH grid.
I took the risk and reported the outage with the prospect of sleep as my reward.
Within minutes a woman from PSNH called my cell phone to make sure that I wanted to report the power was out. She reiterated that no one else had called, and if I got it wrong I would pay. She asked if I had checked the electrical panel in the house. I said I had but would again. While double-checking, I described the absence of light and the sound of the neighbor’s backup generator to her. More than anything, I think the generator did the trick. She issued the work order.
About a half hour later, the power came on.
Given this experience I wondered: How is it that the company that transmits our electricity and uses a sophisticated digital voice technology to take calls lacks the ability to detect power outages by digital means?
I found Jamie White’s piece (“Northern Pass really just a real estate deal,” Monitor Opinion page, July 30) the single most cogent take on PSNH’s role in the Northern Pass hydroelectric project. I was struck in particular by his characterization of the towers as a “outdated industrial infrastructure.” Here is why.
Sixteen years ago, my wife’s cousin brought his family to the United States on holiday. They stopped to visit us in Hopkinton, a beautiful, old New England town. They’re from a small town set in the
spectacle of the Austrian Alps. Her cousin is a teacher, a mountaineer and a world traveler.
We went outside on the porch for lunch. From where he sat, he looked out on the lines that hung from the utility poles on the road. In a flat, matter-of-fact tone he said, “It looks like Egypt.”
Is it an exaggeration to say that the Northern Pass Project’s greater scars and towers at jaw-dropping heights across the landscape will ruin our tourist economy and real estate values? I don’t know.
I do know that the outdated industrial infrastructure planned for this project will benefit capital markets, corporate values and private gain.
I do know that most of the electricity from it will go to our south. I do know that New Hampshire’s tourist economy and real estate values will bear the greatest risk for this infrastructure. I do know that electricity transmission projects like this one, but with buried lines, are not uncommon or new.
Never mind that there’s nothing renewable about the project’s power.
How about putting a little energy into the grid so that we might keep pace with modernity?
(Terry Cronin lives in Hopkinton.)