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Power woes don’t end with winter in Londonderry

Union Leader Correspondent

June 18. 2013 6:22PM

LONDONDERRY — Though winter is now a distant memory, some Londonderry residents are being reminded of the season more often then they would like.

In recent months, power outages around town have been random and frequent, leaving many citizens shaking their heads.

PSNH spokesman Elizabeth LaRocca said that in most cases, crews have been able to return power to various neighborhoods within several hours.

LaRocca and other company officials were present at Monday night’s Town Council meeting in hopes of informing the community about the issues at hand.

“One issue we’ve been seeing is outages in small spots,” Councilor Tom Dolan said. “This has been seen most recently towards the center of town.”

“It’s been grating on many residents having to deal with these frequent outages,” he added.

Dolan further noted that the power outages also pose a danger for some of the town’s elderly and those with health problems, since the lack of air conditioning can endanger those with respiratory illnesses.

“We have such a changing demographic in our community with many seniors in town,” he said. “When it’s very hot outside, some residents have oxygen, generators and so forth that have to go on a temporary battery system.”

According to LaRocca, the solution to the problem isn’t a simple one, though it’s one the company is working hard to address.

With many of Londonderry’s communities relying on underground utilities, it’s often no quick fix when its time to target an outage source.

Over the years, millions of dollars have been spent to replace underground cables around Shasta Drive. LaRocca said the company’s budget for underground replacements in its southern division, which represents 40 percent of its customer base, is $4.3 million dollars. Over a third of that budget is devoted to Londonderry, she said.

“The public’s perception that the cure for outages is to go underground isn’t necessarily the case,” Dolan said.

Paul Casper, manager of PSNH’s Derry/Londonderry work center, agreed.

“Every type of utilities system is a double-edged sword,” he said.

“The positive is that if a tree falls down, there’s no problem underground,” he said. “The flip side is if a cable faults, unless you have x-ray vision it’s hard to figure out where the fault is.”

He said being ready for the unexpected is a vital part of his job. Just last week, a raven flew into the Mammoth Road substation and knocked out the power in several neighborhoods.

Right now, the greater Londonderry area is being equipped with a Smart Grid, which uses intelligent devices to help workers pinpoint outage sources faster.

“It’s very costly, but we don’t mind that,” Casper said, noting that the Smart Grid system allowed workers to promptly locate the dead bird and restore power to several thousand homes.

“When this cable system underground was developed, it was like a miracle. It was new to New England, and we all thought it would last forever,” he added. “But nothing lasts forever.”

About two weeks ago, an underground cable fault resulted in an outage near Holten Circle. Workers promptly responded and dug into the ground, replacing a 10-foot section of cable and filling the hole again. ”

“We’d all gone home and 12 hours later, and just 15 feet away, a second piece of cable had failed,” Casper said. “It was just one of those things. If we had x-ray vision it would be easy.”

PSNH officials said they’re hoping to minimize future outages while preparing for the coming winter season.

“The tree-trimming we’ve been doing has definitely helped.” Casper said.

“I think the big question here is communication,” Dolan said. “If the town knows what’s going on, we can let citizens know. And when people know what’s happening and why, it can improve some of the angst we all experience.”

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