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NStar installing new equipment to meet demand in area of Allston hit by outages

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  August 16, 2012 05:49 PM

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NStar is installing new equipment that company officials said will allow it to “meet current and future demand” for electricity in a section of Allston where a recent series of outages frustrated residents and business owners leading the utility to deem its service reliability in the area was substandard.

“This is a significant upgrade project,” utility spokesman Michael Durand said. “We have a lot of upgrade work going on in that area to increase the reliability and availability of electricity.”

The effort involves installing more than 10,000 feet of new cable, about 2,100 feet of new conduit, five new transformers and an enhanced detection system to monitor the company’s equipment in that area, he said. NStar is also digging two new manholes.

The project will increase the area’s electrical capacity and will double the number of independent power sources that serve that area, he said.

NStar expects to complete all digging work – some of which has led to traffic-straining street closures and detours – by next week, weather permitting, he said.

After that, police-aided traffic details should be less obtrusive to travelers. The entire project is scheduled to finish by the end of September.

He said that the company has taken measures to prevent the upgrade work from causing customers to lose power.

Starting on Friday, the utility plans to hand-deliver notices about ongoing upgrade work to some 1,400 customers who have been affected by the outages, Durand said.

Those customers are primarily located in and around Brighton and Harvard avenues and Cambridge, North Beacon and Linden streets; the area includes a key stretch of the neighborhood’s business district.

On Sat., Aug. 4, at about 11:30 a.m., cable failures in the company’s underground system affected about 1,200 of the customers. Some of those customers did not have electricity back on until 8 a.m. Sunday, he said.

On Sun., Aug. 5, at about 12:30 p.m., 800 of the customers were in the dark again due to an unrelated cable failure, according to Durand. For about 600 customers, the outage lasted just under three hours. The other 200 customers were without electricity until about 2 a.m. Monday.

On Monday afternoon, the NStar spokesman said that the reliability of its service in that area was substandard and the company vowed to explore long-term solutions.

After crews had begun working on the ongoing improvement project, an outage affected about 450 of the customers on Thurs., Aug. 9. That outage was not caused by the upgrade work, but by another unrelated cable failure, the spokesman said.

Durand said the new electrical infrastructure is needed because the number of customers and the demand for power in that section of Allston has increased significantly in recent years.

The area has been hit with similar power failures in recent years. Last July, smoke poured from a manhole at Brighton ¬Avenue and Linden Street as NStar crews worked to fix a problem with an underground cable that caused about 1,500 customers to lose power overnight.

NStar came under sharp criticism from city officials over two major outages earlier this year.

In March, an electrical substation caught fire, cutting power for two days to a broad swath of the city. An outage in May in the Back Bay affected about 12,500 customers, though it lasted less than an hour.

Durand said the company has been working closely with officials from the city and met with the Mayor’s Office Wednesday to lay out its plans to improve service in Allston.

The company is also working in conjunction with the MBTA because some of the digging and work NStar needs to do is near and underneath the Green Line B Branch tracks that run along Commonwealth Avenue, he said.

Between about 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. this Friday and Saturday, times when the trolleys are not in service, NStar plans to do work along the T tracks, Durand said. The utility may have to complete that portion of the work Sunday morning.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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