Utilities seem to have gotten the message from angry customers and state regulators. Their performance in Derry, Londonderry and the rest of Southern New Hampshire in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was much improved over that in other storms over the past few years.
Sandy’s sustained high winds took out power to hundreds of thousands of customers in New Hampshire. The damage was much more extensive as one approached the storm’s Southern New Jersey landfall.
By the end of last week, however, power had been restored to most, if not all, customers in Southern New Hampshire.
That’s a big improvement from utilities’ performance in last year’s Halloween snowstorm, which left some people without power for a week or more. The slow repairs angered customers. So, too, did the arrogance displayed by utility officials, who tried to tell us that this is what we must expect living in New England.
Those of us who have lived in New England for many years remember when we had an electrical grid capable of withstanding a few typical storms.
Sandy, granted, was something other than typical. The weather system, dubbed a “superstorm” by some meteorologists, walloped the East Coast with tropical storm force winds over a span of 1,000 miles.
With winds of that magnitude sustained over much of a day, it is not surprising that trees were toppled and power lines downed.
Utilities have come under increasing scrutiny from state regulators for poor performance restoring power after a number of recent storms, notably the “Snowtober” blizzard of 2011. The Public Utilities Commission earlier this year ordered up an “after-action review” to examine utilities’ preparation for and response to the 2011 storm, which left more than 300,000 Granite Staters without power. The PUC study looked at not only response times and efforts but how well the state’s utilities were prepared for the major event and how alert they were to weather forecasts.
The regulatory attention seems to have paid off.
In Southern New Hampshire, Unitil finished its repairs last Wednesday. Public Service of New Hampshire, the largest of the local providers, completed most repairs by last Thursday midnight. New Hampshire Electric Co-op also had power restored last Thursday night to all but a few isolated customers. The co-op serves some parts of Derry, Danville, Londonderry, Sandown, Kingston and Chester, and had some big problems in those areas.
While there were still some isolated outages into the end of last week, overall many residents rated the utilities’ performance as an improvement over recent storms.
That’s a welcome change. Losing power is more than just an inconvenience. It can lead to death among the elderly and infirm and among those who use portable generators improperly.
Regulators and customers will need to keep the pressure on the state’s utilities, particular as the winter progresses. The utilities have made a good start with their response to Sandy. They must keep up the good work.