Report: Room for improvement in utilities’ Thanksgiving 2014 snowstorm response

Last modified: 9/30/2015 12:46:39 AM
Unitil was hit comparatively harder by last year’s Thanksgiving snowstorm than Public Service of New Hampshire, but restored power faster, according to a new report from the state, which argues that all utilities would benefit from gathering more weather forecasts and deploying more crews when power-damaging storms are predicted.

The report is a required staff analysis of utility response to the heavy, wet snow that fell on Nov. 26, 2014, the day before Thanksgiving. The storm knocked out power to more than 238,000 customers in the state, the fourth-largest number in New Hampshire history. Some customers were without power for five days.

The report covers preparations and response by PSNH (now known as Eversource), Unitil Electric and New Hampshire Electric Cooperative. It has much less emphasis on Liberty Utilities, which has few electric customers in the state.

Unitil Electric “had the highest percentage of customers without power, yet yielded the fastest rate of restoration,” the report said.

At the storm’s peak, 46 percent of Unitil customers were without power, but the utility reported all restorations completed by Sunday morning, 3.6 days after the first outage, the report said.

The bulk of Unitil’s outages occurred in Concord and surrounding service towns, said company spokesman Alex O’Meara. Unitil also provides electricity to a dozen towns in southeastern New Hampshire, along the Seacoast, but that region was not hit as hard by the storm.

Eversource has about seven times as many customers in New Hampshire as Unitil and covers a much broader area. It had a peak outage rate of 41 percent but didn’t complete restoration until Monday morning, 4.75 days after the first outage.

New Hampshire Electric Cooperative had a 36-percent outage at peak, and restored power after 4.25 days.

Since that storm, Eversource has installed a new version of what is called an outage-management system, which compiles and distributes information about the extent of power outages. The PUC report is highly critical of the company’s previous system, known as an OMS.

Eversource’s “current OMS is inadequate, cannot portray precise numbers of customers affected, and does not depict outages at the street level or Estimated Times of Restoration,” the report said.

Eversource spokesman Martin Murray said the new OMS was rolled out Sept. 13. The company is required to demonstrate the system, with integrated GPS, for state regulators by Dec. 1.

“The snow-laden damage was extensive: we replaced 129 transformers and 59 utility poles, restrung 18.5 miles of cable and answered more than 203,000 customer calls. More than 1,500 line workers and tree specialists worked on this massive mutual aid response and Eversource was recognized by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) with its 2014 EEI Recovery Award,” said Lauren Collins, Eversource media specialist.

The report said that this was the first big storm to hit during a major holiday, which complicated the ability to call up extra repair crews. It told utilities to “add major holiday periods” to emergency response plans filed with the state, “to address the need to accelerate standard planned actions when monitoring weather forecasts and the need to enhance/anticipate the preplanning and pre-staging of line crews prior to and during major holiday periods.”

The report details weather forecasts that were received in advance of the storm. Eversource and Unitil have meteorological contracts with Schneider Electric, which purchased Telvent DTN, the company that previously supplied the meteorological services. And yet, the report says, “There is inconsistency between companies on the confidence levels of the forecasts given by the same weather forecast service provider at the same time.” It also notes that Unitil receives three daily forecasts once a level of concern known as EII 3 is reached, whereas Eversource only receives two daily forecasts.

The wide extent of Eversource’s service area, which stretches from Massachusetts to Canada, complicates forecasts because the areas covered by the Schneider Electric reports do not correspond well with the company’s service areas.

The reports said that Eversource has shown a decline of 7 percent in line crews compared with 10 years ago, whereas Unitil and New Hampshire Electric Cooperative numbers of line crews have stayed stable. Eversource said, however, that the decline is at least partly a reflection of the fact that “unfilled” crews were counted through 2013, but were not counted in 2014.

In the Concord area, Unitil electric service covers Concord, Boscawen and most of Bow, Chichester and Epsom, plus parts of Canterbury, Webster and Salisbury, while Eversource handles most of the remaining area. New Hampshire Electric Cooperative provides service in parts of Northfield and Canterbury.



(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)




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