Recent North Berkshire power outages raise concerns


NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- On the heels of this week’s back-to-back power outages, municipal officials in North County are expressing concern about the state of the power grid and are seeking ways to better respond to outages when they occur.

Thousands of customers were affected by outages Tuesday and Wednesday -- barely two months after a similar incident darkened many of the same communities.

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright is seeking a meeting between National Grid officials, himself, Adams Town Administrator Jonathan Butler and Williamstown Town Administrator Peter Fohlin to discuss the matter.

"I want to know the current status of the infrastructure in Adams, and if it needs upgrading how we can work together to move that forward," Alcombright said. "When something blows in Adams it takes out all of North County."

He also wants to discuss establishing a better communications protocol in the event of a power outage so that municipal and public safety officials will know more quickly what is happening and why.

"We need to get the word out better," Alcombright said.

He said he also wants to have a better understanding of how the power grid works, and why a failure at one substation affects such a wide region when there are other substations in the other communities.

An equipment failure shortly after 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at an Adams substation on Zylonite Station Road left more than 18,500 customers without power in Adams, North Adams, Williamstown, Clarksburg, Cheshire, Hancock and Florida. Service was restored at approximately 3:30.

On May 9, a fire at the same substation left 19,600 customers in the same towns without power for several hours.

Both of those power outages were the result of the malfunction in two unrelated circuit breakers, according to National Grid spokesman Jake Navarro.

Utility officials are evaluating both power outages to see if they are related, he said, and whether any of the equipment at the Adams substation is in need of an upgrade.

The May outage, Navarro noted, may have been caused by lightning, but is still under investigation. The Tuesday outage was not caused by lightning. It is also being investigated but could have been the result of high power demand driven by hot, humid weather conditions.

Power went out again from 4:30 to 4:55 p.m. on Wednesday in Adams, North Adams and Williamstown.

That outage, Navarro said, was caused after repairs were completed to equipment damaged in Tuesday’s blackout. Technicians were trying to switch the power back to the repaired primary system from the emergency redundancy circuit during a period of peak demand when another piece of equipment failed. The equipment was repaired quickly after Wednesday’s outage.

"At this point," Navarro said, "we are confident in the system. It is impossible to bring the possibility of an outage down to zero, but we’ve done everything we can to minimize chances of another outage, although we can’t account for falling trees or severe weather."


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