National Grid worker Bob Witney helps feed a new power cable into a manhole on Magnolia Avenue in Gloucester as part of an ongoing upgrade to Cape Ann’s infrastructure.
National Grid worker Bob Witney helps feed a new power cable into a manhole on Magnolia Avenue in Gloucester as part of an ongoing upgrade to Cape Ann’s infrastructure.
National Grid

Crews from ElecComm Corp., an electric- and communications-line construction company based in Wilmington, are running new copper power lines through the existing manhole and duct system in Beverly, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Gloucester, along Route 127 and also some side streets.

The work is part of a nine-month, 15-mile, $11 million project that also will improve National Grid’s electrical infrastructure in Essex, Hamilton, Rockport, and Wenham, according to utility officials.

By upgrading the span of subtransmission lines, the company is working to increase the system’s capability of distributing electricity to its customers and add backup in the event of a power outage.

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“It will add capacity and give us an additional line to that area as well,” said Dan Cameron, manager of community and customer management for National Grid.

Keeping up with consumer need for energy is a recurring theme for providers, and the work on Cape Ann is part of a major investment in the electricity grid’s infrastructure, he said.

“A great example is schools,” Cameron said, noting that new buildings typically have air conditioning, computer capabilities, and more extensive lighting and other energy uses. “It’s much, much higher.”

Having an additional line also protects consumers from lengthy power outages, such as the July 2011 blackout that left businesses in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park with no electricity for two days.

“We had two [supply lines] go out at the very same time, for two different reasons,” Cameron said, noting that one of the cables was nine years old and the other dated from the 1920s. “That’s what made that one different.”

The incident was a catalyst for moving the Cape Ann upgrade — already scheduled as a long-term project — ahead of schedule.

Also, three power-generating wind turbines have been installed at the industrial park, two of which will provide electricity to Gloucester’s municipal buildings and schools.

In addition to installing new power cable, the utility is upgrading equipment in substations in three municipalities where the work is being done; the new gear will enhance the reliability of the system and improve restoration times during power outages, the company said.

“This is a complex project,” said John Upham, manager of stakeholder services for National Grid, who said the existing manhole and duct system means the job won’t require the excavation of roads, and the attendant disruptions, that can be needed in some areas.

ElecComm has had four-member crews — plus two detail officers for traffic — working on Cape Ann each day since September, starting at about 8 a.m.

On a typical job, the crew will set up its work site at two manhole covers, typically 300 to 700 feet apart. After pumping out any water in the manhole and cleaning dirt or debris from the duct, the crew will feed a pilot rope through the duct to the other end. The transmission line is then attached to the rope, and pulled by a winch through the duct until it reaches the second manhole. Later, another crew will splice the cables together.

Project foreman Derek Grant, working on Magnolia Avenue in Gloucester on a recent day, said the process has gone smoothly, and the new line is expected to be completed by June 1.

“This one hasn’t been bad,” he said. “The area is nice, the weather has been good.”

Considering that he’ll be working in Gloucester during the middle of winter, including installing a 1,200-foot line under the Blynman Canal, Grant noted that the weather could change.

“Last year would have been a great year to be out there,” he said, recalling the relatively mild conditions.