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October storm showed strengths and limits of technology, but it likely got the lights back on days sooner

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 20. 2018 2:40PM

The 2008 ice storm — the state's largest power outage — cost Eversource about $75 million. (UNION LEADER FILE)

Lisa Blackburn surveys the damage after a tree split the upstairs of her Epping cottage in half during the Oct. 30, 2017, storm. (JASON SCHREIBER/UNION LEADER FILE)

Eversource said restoring power to more than 300,000 customers during last October’s wind storm cost around $32 million, second only to the 2008 ice storm.

Upgrades in technology helped get the lights back on sooner — up to two days in some cases — according to the utility.

Nearly 1,100 sensors on poles and other equipment around the state helped give Eversource officials a quicker way to identify the extent of the outages and what equipment needed to get repaired compared to 230 sensors available during the 2014 Thanksgiving Day snowstorm, which caused nearly as many outages.

Eversource said 316,375 customers lost power at some point during the 2017 storm caused by 4,035 outage events.

It took three days for Eversource to restore power for the 2014 storm and six days for the 2017 storm, which featured more damage.

The 2008 ice storm — the state’s largest power outage — cost Eversource about $75 million while the 2014 Thanksgiving storm cost stood at around $25 million, said Eversource spokesman Martin Murray. Eversource often recovers such costs through customers’ monthly bills.

In 2015, Eversource also launched an outage management system that allowed it to monitor outages and dispatch crews sooner.

“This is a game changer,” said Joe Purington, vice president of electric operations.

During the 2014 storm, Eversource used paper and clipboards to send out repair orders to crews. For the 2017 storm, crews were dispatched by phone or radio.

The company’s 12-page post-mortem report said technology had its limits.

“Sometimes, even the best tools fall short and present challenges, such as when our online outage reporting and restoration updates experienced technical difficulties and were intermittently unavailable during the October 2017 wind storm,” the report said, adding the utility understands “the stress and disruption a power outage can cause in our customers’ lives."

Employees work at their stations at Eversource's distribution systems operation control center in Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Lots of calls

The Public Utilities Commission received a “considerable number of calls” from Eversource customers, according to Amanda Noonan, director of the PUC’s consumer services and external affairs.

“They called because they were unable to report their outage or were receiving incorrect information about their outage,” Noonan said.

Noonan said the PUC received more calls from Eversource on the first full day after the 2017 storm than during the first full day after the 2008 ice storm.

The commission conducted an informal review of the performance of utilities both during and after the storm, but that information wasn’t available Friday, Noonan said.

Unitil spokesman Alec O’Meara said Unitil spent about $1.4 million restoring power to customers that saw “an unusually long duration” of high winds that sometimes caused individual locations to experience damage multiple times.

“This storm demonstrated, once again, that pre-planning and estimating resource needs based on previous similar events are two proactive measures that equate to positive results,” O’Meara said.

Chris Piccolo works at his station at Eversource's distribution systems operation control center in Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

33,900 outages at peak

Unitil’s peak outage was 33,900 customers the morning of Oct. 30, with restoration completed by Halloween night, he said.

According to its report, Eversource began monitoring weather reports Thursday, Oct. 26 about possible high winds and flooding rains with the worst impact along the Seacoast.

The following day, forecasters pegged the worst-case scenario of the storm system moving to the west at around 20 percent.

But on Sunday, the storm received moisture and energy from ex-Tropical Storm Phillipe, which moved west up the St. Lawrence Valley, where it underwent rapid “bombogenesis,” in which rapidly deepening pressures within the storm produced stronger winds.

“You can’t always blame the weather forecast, but it would have been helpful to have had a little more accuracy with that weather forecast by far,” Purington said.

The storm struck around 10 p.m. Sunday.

“Within four hours of the storm hitting, we knew we needed more resources than what we had secured,” Purington said.

Overnight into Monday morning, Eversource restored power to more than 45,000 customers, many through a new intelligent switching technology that allowed Eversource operators to reroute power to some customers.

Eversource used 865 crews to restore power and fielded 67,290 customer calls in five days.

It replaced 408 damaged poles and 463 transformers.

Restoration was “substantially complete” by Friday.

Eversource's Joe Purington gives a tour of Eversource's distribution systems operation control center in Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

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