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Selectmen keep pressure on National Grid

Date: 8/16/2011

Aug. 15, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW — The Board of Selectmen is turning up the heat in their attempt to improve utility services provided by National Grid.

James Driscoll, chair of the Board of Selectmen, wrote a letter on July 29 to Marcy L. Reed, president of National Grid Massachusetts, voicing continued concerns about service interruptions and poor customer service residents have been experiencing.

“On behalf of the citizens of the Town of East Longmeadow, I write to express our extreme displeasure with the electrical service provided by National Grid. The frequency of power outages is beyond the level of annoyance. The length of restoration times is often unbearably prolonged. The inconsistency of customer service communications regarding power restoration is maddening. The situation is unacceptable,” Driscoll wrote.

Driscoll acknowledged the diligence of National Grid employees in getting power back to East Longmeadow in the wake of the June 1 tornado and recognized that the issues associated with that were unforeseeable and unavoidable.

With that said, he cited an inordinate amount of power outages affecting the town that occur with some level of regularity that he deemed unacceptable and that flaws in the current infrastructure appear to be the cause.

“My lay-person’s understanding is that a looped infrastructure system would provide much more reliable service. I also acknowledge that there may be other infrastructure improvements of which I’m not aware that could be made to address this. Regardless of what method is utilized to fix the ongoing problem, it is undeniable that the straight line system National Grid has in place does not provide adequate reliability,” Driscoll wrote.

He also complained of long response times during power outages and emergency situations that can be attributed to the distance between the local National Grid headquarters in Monson and the perception that East Longmeadow is viewed as a lower priority during storm situations.

Communication issues between National Grid and consumers and differing information relayed by customer service phone personnel and those in the field were also cited in the letter.

In response to the letter, Reed told Reminder Publications the unusually strong storms the region has experienced lately have had a lasting effect.

“We know that power outages are an annoyance to our customers and we apologize for the inconvenience they can cause. We always strive for the safe, reliable delivery of electricity, but as you [are] well aware, the weather in the western part of the state has been far from typical. The recent outages in the area are a result of weather events from storms where trees outside our property lines have fallen into our electricity transmission lines,” she said.

“Severe damage in the area greatly hampered the ability of our well-trained and hard-working crews to access the area, and our worksites, impeding our ability to quickly restore electric service. Tree interference and animal contact on other occasions also have contributed to outages in the area,” Reed said.

Reed also asserted that National Grid has continued to work to strengthen the utility infrastructure in East Longmeadow through past and present projects.

“Providing good service is something we don’t take lightly. Investment in our East Longmeadow electric system has been robust, with about $1 million spent on electricity distribution line assets in the past three years and about $500,000 on the East Longmeadow substation in the past five years. In addition, we currently have a $234,000 project underway at the East Longmeadow substation with a completion date near the end of 2011, all designed to enhance electricity reliability in the town. We also have a multi-town, multi-million dollar electricity transmission project upgrade under way, which will be completed in 2014,” she said.

“We are committed to providing the good service our customers expect and deserve, and share their frustration when lengthy outages occur. Rest assured, we are doing all we can restore our customer’' faith in us and to improve service to the community. While we cannot control the weather, we do work hard to provide reliable service each and every day,” she added.

National Grid Media Relations has confirmed that Reed also personally sent a response to Driscoll’s letter to the Board of Selectmen on Aug. 9.

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