Winter storms present a significant challenge for utilities, especially National Grid PLC here in southern New England. Keeping the power on is a difficult problem, and there were significant and extended power outages after one of the recent nor’easters to pummel Rhode Island and the rest of southern New England.
Still, at least from a comparison to October’s extended power outages, National Grid seems to have learned that good planning makes its efforts more effective.
National Grid has touted the millions of dollars it is spending to make the power grid more resilient. But few people are talking in any significant way about one of the major reasons that we seem to be so vulnerable to sustained power outages.
The issue is trees, more specifically, trees near power lines. With the likelihood that storms are going to be more frequent and more powerful as the result of climate change, it would seem that trees toppling power lines will become a more frequent occurrence. Of course, trees make the landscape more beautiful, but when too close to power lines, they are just trouble waiting to happen.
It is time that National Grid and the state’s elected leaders have a serious conversation about more aggressive preventive maintenance to keep power lines more insulated from tree damage. And while they are at it, perhaps the issue of putting more power and other lines underground should come up as well.
The future is going to need a more robust power and communications infrastructure if Rhode Island is going to take part in it. The time to act on this reality is now.