AG keeps eye on utilities’ efforts to restore power

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By Jenifer B. McKim
Globe Staff / January 13, 2011

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Hundreds, if not thousands, of Massachusetts households will probably remain without power today — a day after heavy snow snapped branches and tumbled powers lines, largely in southeastern Massachusetts, leaving about 100,000 households without power.

Crews were scurrying yesterday to repair power lines battered by the nor’easter, which dumped more than 2 feet of snow on parts of Massachusetts. National Grid said nearly 70,000 customers lost power at the mid-morning peak, with a large number of them in southern and southeastern Massachusetts. More than 25,000 customers in Plymouth County lost power because of a transmission line outage, said Amy Zorich, a spokeswoman for National Grid.

By last night, nearly 11,000 National Grid and NStar customers remained without power.

National Grid, already under state investigation for what was described as a lackluster response to a blizzard in December, said the company readied about 600 crews to fix broken power lines in advance of yesterday’s storm. It also worked to improve communication with local officials during its repair efforts, the utility said.

“We likely are looking at an effort that may in some cases extend into tomorrow evening for full service restoration,’’ Zorich said yesterday. “We ask that our customers bear with us and be patient as our crews work in challenging weather conditions to restore service as safely and quickly as possible.’’

The state is investigating why National Grid’s emergency response to December’s storm left some customers without power for up to 36 hours. Tim Shevlin, Department of Public Utilities spokesman, said officials were closely watching the utility’s response to yesterday’s storm.

The office of state Attorney General Martha Coakley was also monitoring National Grid and other companies yesterday to make sure the utilities restored power as soon as possible. “Any lengthy outage in the winter poses a severe threat to public safety,’’ said Melissa Karpinsky, a spokeswoman for Coakley.

At the peak of the storm, about 20,000 NStar customers — mostly in Plymouth, Marshfield, and the Boston area — were without power, said Caroline Allen, NStar spokeswoman. The company was preparing for additional outages last night and shifting crews to the South Shore, which was hardest hit.

“While the snowfall has tapered off, we are preparing for possible additional outages as winds pick up in the overnight hours,’’ Allen said yesterday.

Central Massachusetts, also hit by heavy snowfall, appeared to have been largely spared from power outages. Unitil Corp., a utility company that covers many communities in the area and suffered major power losses during a 2008 ice storm, said it had no reported power outages in the late afternoon. “What we are seeing inland in Fitchburg is drier and fluffier snow,’’ said Alec O’Meara, media relations manager. The company planned to stay on high alert throughout the evening.

Downed power lines forced Amtrak to suspend service between New York and Boston yesterday, and the Blue Hills Ski Area was forced to close its doors during the biggest snowfall this winter.

“We are crying, believe me,’’ said Jennifer Heinen, manager of the ski area, which lost power in the morning. “There is snow and people want to ski and we have to be closed.’’

The resort expects to be open this morning.

Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at