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March 27. 2013 1:46PM

Windham asks: Why are the lights always going out?

WINDHAM - With seasonal storms seeming more and more severe, Windham residents have grappled with an unusually high number of power outages in recent years.

During Monday night's selectmen's meeting, officials from Public Service of New Hampshire said it's no simple problem, though they're constantly working toward a lasting solution. Town administrator David Sullivan said it's a typical snow day in Windham when dozens of residents call to inquire about when their power might be restored.

"They want me to turn the power back on, but I can't," Sullivan said, adding that he'd invited PSNH to the meeting in hopes of informing the public on the company's typical restoration efforts.

Company spokeswoman Elizabeth LaRocca said the company serves about 500,000 clients statewide, encompassing 234 towns in New Hampshire.

"In 2008 when ice storms hit southern New Hampshire, we saw Windham being last to be restored," LaRocca said. "The bottom line is, we have about 14,000 miles of distribution lines in New Hampshire."

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the area has coped with increasingly worse winter storms. Around that time, LaRocca said, the company had about 400,000 clients.

"Fast-forward to December 2008. Now we're talking 322,000 customers below Concord alone, which accounts for two-thirds of our customers," LaRocca said. "Fortunately for all of us, we've been able to work together and it gets better with each storm. During Hurricane Irene in August 2011, a total of 125,000 PSNH customers around the state lost their power. The freak October 2011 snowstorm left 237,000 customers in the dark. During Super Storm Sandy in October 2012, 137,000 clients lost their power.

"Sometimes people can get pretty upset with us," LaRocca said.

Local line supervisor Paul Casper said the storms he's seen in recent years "have been just horrendous.

"We have technology you can't believe, but when the wires are on the ground, the computers aren't putting the wires back up," Casper said. "My 12 line crews still have to go out."

Casper said the company's usual protocol is to restore power to hospitals, nursing homes, police and fire stations first.

"You can't imagine just what I have in the Derry area alone. First of all, we have to clear the public safety areas," Casper said. "And it's kind of a crapshoot sometimes."

During the most recent storms, restoration efforts were hastened when the company was able to plan ahead, calling in utility crews from Arkansas, Arizona and Oklahoma. "Those guys were amazing," Casper said. "That's how our industry works."

Also part of the company's proactive efforts have been ongoing bouts of tree trimming. LaRocca said PSNH has completed 16 miles of tree trimming in Windham alone.

Around 350 Derry and Windham customers have also been moved off the Derry substation circuit to achieve further balance, company officials said.

AGuilmet@newstote.com


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