August 31, 2011

Powerless and It's OK

Marc Comtois

We lost power. We still don't have power. It's ok. We didn't have flooding. We have gas/hot water and septic (good thing we're holding off on hooking up to city sewer--no grinder pump problems for us). No tree damage, no house damage. I was lucky enough to obtain a power inverter prior to the storm, so we've been able to run the fridge and keep things cool and power and charge the all important media devices that tween girls need to survive. We've played board games, laughed and spent time with each other. It's been a net positive. Things could be much, much worse.

I don't envy National Grid. They're in a tough spot. But I think their P.R. has been inadequate. Telling the state that Newport/Aquidneck Island was a serious problem then it's fixed in no time. Paranoid RIers aren't too keen to hear that those rich folks got power while those in the hinterland are still without. It's not just city vs. town. It's also neighborhood rivalry. People wonder: why is so much work being done in the Governor Francis neighborhood while I haven't seen a National Grid truck in my neighborhood in 3 days? Perception--real or imagined--reinforced by immediate circumstances.

Now, after some hue and cry, Nat'l Grid has updated their power outage map with expected dates of service resumption. The vast majority of which indicated that power will be back...this weekend. Just like they've been saying all along. Perhaps it will ease the minds of some who like to see a date (like September 4th at midnight), but the actual fact hasn't changed: They've been saying the weekend all along, they just added in the dates.

When power first went out, I never thought it would take 7 days to get it back in my neighborhood here in the populous exurb of Warwick. But that's what the map says. We'll manage. At least it wasn't water this time.


As I've been tweeting, I suspect the weekend estimates were put out to quiet the "no schedule" criticism. The fact is, by saying we'd have it by the weekend, getting power before that will seem like a lucky break or the like. Not that I blame National Grid. Lowering expectations is one way to manage them, after all. Regardless, thanks to the linemen for their continuing efforts.

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Same here. Been out since 9 am on Sunday, as we were grinding the coffee beans!

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to acquire a generator, unlike many of my neighbors who run the damn things all night long. Grocery shopping last Friday has turned into this week's trash.

There are still downed power lines on 114/Diamond Hill Rd, in Cumberland. That's about as a main thoroughfare as it gets.

I just wish many of these idiotic motorists would get it through their heads that traffic light off doesn't mean free for all and zip through at 30-40 mph. It's a four way stop.

It is interesting to get back to a simpler time. By 7:30 pm, it sure is dark, even eerie when you can't hear anything with all the generators drowning out all the usual summer night sounds.

Posted by: Patrick at August 31, 2011 10:40 AM

Let's face it, National Grid is a controlled industry. This tends to distort spending towards things which are commpensable under the state's rules. Sneak calls to the radio by NG employees suggest that manyof the sub stations are equipped with 50 year old equipment. This is no longer supported by manufacturers and spare parts are unavailable. There are also reports that NG is out of poles.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 31, 2011 1:09 PM

It would be interesting to see what the cost difference would be to bury all the electric lines from now on. Maybe it's cheaper up front to put up poles, but isn't this proving more expensive for NG to fix this mess than if they'd buried these lines in the first place? I imagine it takes a little longer to dig a trench and lay the lines down and maybe it requires different insulation for buried wires vs. high wires, but does it take a lot longer? Are there other considerations for buried wires when you think that you have no more power outages due to falling trees, high winds or vehicle accidents?

Posted by: Patrick at August 31, 2011 1:28 PM


Many "classy" towns, for instance Brookline, MA, have required underground utilities since the inception of utility lines. Many more towns require them in all new sub-divisions.

About costs. When they ran power lines through my property, they took, and paid for, 4.3 acres. Essentially, they have eminent domain power. It would have been cheaper just to take a 20 foot strip. Upkeep of poles and right of way are also expensive. Utility lines need not be buried as deep as sewer and water.

Contra. "Working in the street" makes you subject to all municipal regulations and can be quite expensive. Sewer is currently around $200 a foot "in the street". Power lines simply leap over streets. Next, little thought of, is wetland regulations. Initial wetlands regulations specifically exempted the utility companies, for previous installations. For instance, of the acreage they took off me, probably 30% is wetland. They are able to do things, such as mowing, that would send me to jail. However, "new construction" must comply with wetlands regs. I hesitate to even guess at the cost in "compliance" to cross a 3 acre damp area. Certainly hundreds of thousands.

So, where installed, I would expect elevated lines to be with us for quite a while.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 31, 2011 8:56 PM

P.S. In consideration of costs,many towns are permitting utilities to be run in unpaved "side walk" areas.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 31, 2011 8:57 PM

"Are there other considerations for buried wires..."

I imagine that low-lying areas near bodies of water could actually have their conduits flooded. Troubleshooting becomes much harder since you can't just look at the line. And of course, initial costs for buried lines are much higher.

I think it's worth it for aesthetic reasons. I wonder if the ancient sewer lines in the cities are big enough to run conduit through, which would prevent a lot of digging.

Posted by: mangeek at September 1, 2011 8:23 AM


One of the Die Hard movies, the one where the terrorists attack an airport, shows a lot of underground electrical service and how it is accessed. It was shot on Long Island and most of the facilities shown are real.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at September 1, 2011 4:49 PM
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