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NStar: Power reliability substandard in part of Allston hit by two weekend outages

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  August 6, 2012 06:25 PM

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NStar is looking at long-term solutions to improve electrical service in an area of Allston where the company said reliability is substandard after two outages affected hundreds of customers, including a key area of the neighborhood’s business district, over the weekend.

“We know that our customers expect and deserve better,” NStar spokesman Michael Durand said by phone Monday. “And, we’re taking a closer look at how to improve service and reliability to the area.”

On Saturday at about 11:30 a.m., cable failures in the company’s underground system affected about 1,200 customers in and around Brighton and Harvard avenues and Cambridge, North Beacon and Linden streets, Durand said.

Some of those customers had power restored sooner, but others did not have electricity back on until 8 a.m. Sunday, he said.

On Sunday, at about 12:30 p.m., 800 of the same customers who lost power the day before were in the dark again, 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.

That outage was also caused by “cable failures” in NStar’s underground system, but the company has not determined whether the two outages were related.

He said that for some customers, the outages were abnormally lengthy, in part because it took time for crews to locate the outage, move cars parked atop manhole covers, make repairs, and install generators to some residents and businesses.

To resolve one outage, Durand said, NStar workers needed to get access to an abandoned building where an electrical switch was located.

“The events of this weekend clearly told us that this circuit needs further analysis,” Durand said.

“We take service reliability to our 1.1 million customers very seriously. And in most areas, our service is reliable,” he added. “Unfortunately, the reliability in this particular part of Allston does not meet our standards.”

He said NStar officials are in the process of reviewing other outages that have hit that area in recent months and years and to study whether they may have been related. Durand said he did not immediately know how many outages have affected that area historically.

Last July, smoke poured from a manhole at the intersection of 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, according to a report by WHDH-TV.

NStar designs its infrastructure to handle times – including on hot, humid summer days – when demand for electricity peaks, and the equipment below ground is made to withstand hot temperatures, he said.

Still, the warm weather this weekend may have added strain to the electrical system in that area, Durand said. Heat not only leads to an increase in power use, but also causes temperatures in and around underground electrical equipment to increase.

Among the businesses hit by the outage Sunday was Deep Ellum on Cambridge Street. The popular restaurant and bar lost power when about 35 people were inside

The business was forced to stop serving food during part of the afternoon. Its freezers almost needed help from dry ice to keep their cool, but electricity returned in time.

“It is definitely affecting us,” owner Max Toste told the Globe Sunday. “Today is one of the better days it could happen though. Everyone is at the beach, not hanging around Allston.”

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