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National Grid defends storm efforts in response to critical RI report


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National Grid defends storm efforts in response to critical RI report

National Grid USA disagreed with some of the conclusions of an investigation by Rhode Island regulators that found that the utility's restoration of electricity to more than 144,000 customers following an October 2017 storm unnecessarily took a day-and-a-half longer than in the rest of the Northeast U.S.

Commissioned by Rhode Island's Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, a recent report by PowerServices blamed mismanagement by National Grid for taking five days to fully restore power within its service territory following a severe storm on Oct. 29, 2017. In total, the report said, National Grid's inactions in adjusting storm classification and communicating storm and outage severity helped cause a longer-than-expected delay in the full restoration of power by up to 36 hours.

A few days after the storm landed, Gov. Gina Raimondo directed the regulatory agency to investigate the preparation and response time by Narragansett Electric Co., a subsidiary of National Grid Group PLC that does business in the state as National Grid. National Grid's proposed $71.6 million hike in distribution base rates following the blackout has also spurred criticisms and calls by a lawmaker to investigate the utility's business practices.

The Rhode Island report specifically concluded that National Grid had failed not only to have "redundant" weather analysis processes to recognize the intensity of the storm and its outage impact, but also to communicate internally and to the public the severity of the storm. The report said the company was also slow to react to changing events and, as a result, allowed other New England utilities to secure mutual aid resources first at the expense of National Grid's under-resourced restoration efforts.

The report directed National Grid to draw up plans outlining changes it will make to avoid future storm event classification errors. The report also recommended that National Grid more aggressively trim trees around power lines and supplement its weather forecasting services to make more accurate predictions while shoring up its international communications.

In a March 26 filing, National Grid said the storm surpassed the "two historical and unprecedented major weather impacts" that Rhode Islanders have experienced in recent years. "The storm impacted more customers than Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and produced more physical damage to the Company's poles than Tropical Storm Irene in 2011," the company asserted.

Responding to critics, National Grid noted that the report had acknowledged that inaccurate weather predictions were prevalent and greatly contributed to inadequate planning for utilities across the region. The utility also said it had restored power to 90% of its peak customers within the first two-and-a-half days of the outage, which was within the expected three-day restoration target.