National Grid vows to act on North County outages


NORTH ADAMS -- In the wake of multiple power outages since May, National Grid has promised local officials it will take action to improve reliability.

At an Adams substation, which handles power to the majority of North County, the utility is evaluating the health of its circuit breakers, upgrading the control center, and has hired a consultant to improve protection from lightning.

The improvements were announced by National Grid of Massachusetts President Marcy Reed during a private meeting with local officials July 25. The conference included North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, Adams Town Administrator Jonathan Butler, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, an aide to state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, and senior National Grid officials and engineers, according to a press release issued by Alcombright's office.

A May 9 power outage left nearly 20,000 North County residents without power for several hours, and was blamed on a substation fire caused by equipment failure. On July 8, two nearly consecutive power outages forced the region's customers to go without power for a total of about six hours. That, too, was caused by equipment failure at the Adams substation on Zylonite Road, and is still being investigated.

National Grid's efforts were largely met with praise by Alcombright in a statement.

"Our issues here in Northern Berkshire are being addressed and obviously a priority to National Grid as evidenced by Massachusetts National Grid President Reed coming to North Adams to hear our concerns," Alcombright said.

National Grid employees said the cause of the May outage was a lightning strike, which is being addressed through the retention of a consultant on the matter, according to Butler. The July outage is still being looked into.

"National Grid knows communities depend on the power we provide, and we take outages like these very seriously," Reed said. "We've repaired and replaced equipment in our Adams substation and our system is now operating normally."

The company representatives sought to dispel some misinformation that has been passed around since the outages, Butler said. National Grid told public officials that the Adams substation -- which serves seven Berkshire communities -- is well under capacity and its equipment is not antiquated.

Although reliability data was not readily available, the company told The Eagle that the May outage was the first in at least five years to be caused by equipment failure at the Adams substation.

"We feel comfortable saying that on average, over time, our electrical system in the Berkshires has been as reliable as other regions in our service area," said Jake Navarro, a National Grid spokesman.

Butler, like Alcombright, said the meeting was informative.

"From my perspective as a public official, I thought it was a good response," Butler said. "I really sense an attitude to try to prevent [outages] in the future."

When the power does go out, upgrades to the substation's control center are intended to reduce downtime, according to Alcombright's release. The blackouts have irked local residents and business owners.

"It's frustrating," said Steve Melito, owner of Thunderbolt Business Services. "Some of the marketing work I do is time-sensitive. For example, email communications and social media posts see better metrics at certain times of day. If all that work isn't set up in advance -- and that happens in the real world with conflicting deadlines and client changes -- windows of opportunity close with power outages."

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