National Grid, Raimondo differ with McKee on utility’s response to March 2 nor’easter

PUBLIC RESPONSE to National Grid Rhode Island's storm preparedness was mixed. / BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/DANIEL ACKER
PUBLIC RESPONSE to National Grid Rhode Island's storm preparedness was mixed. / BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/DANIEL ACKER

PROVIDENCE — National Grid Rhode Island has restored electric service to most of the initial 150,000 who lost power during the March 2 nor’easter, with 330 line crews remaining on hand for Wednesday’s storm, citing improved planning as Gov. Gina M. Raimondo and Lt. Gov. Daniel J. McKee differ on whether the response was adequate.

When asked if the crews will be well rested for the coming storm, National Grid spokesman Ted Kresse was confident crews can also handle the next storm, which could bring up to eight inches of heavy wet snow, according to the National Weather Service as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, and additional power outages to Rhode Island.

“These guys will be ready,” Kresse said.

As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, National Grid reported having restored electric service to all but 488 customers of the initial 150,000 who lost power during the March 2 nor’easter. Kresse said the utility was better informed about the last storm with a more accurate assessment of the likely damage. The more accurate warning allowed them to hire and deploy crews more quickly than during the Oct. 29, 2017, storm, Kresse said.

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He noted many officials were also surprised by the severity of the October storm, which put them in last-minute competition with other states for line crews, a complication they have also avoided this time.

“This storm, we had a bit more lead time,” Kresse said.

High winds that persisted through Saturday as the March 2 storm wound down prevented some crews from getting a quicker start on the storm, he added.

Raimondo agreed with the utility’s self-assessment.

“Considering how bad the damage was, I think National Grid did a good job. The winds were so intense on Friday night that it was difficult to get any crews out immediately, but by Saturday morning there were hundreds of people across our state working quickly to restore power. Ninety-nine percent of affected homes are back up, and I want to say thank you to Rhode Islanders for being patient and for taking care of your neighbors,” Raimondo said.

McKee sees more room for improvement with National Grid’s performance following the March 2 storm, urging Rhode Island House and Senate members to pass storm response legislation modeled after a similar bill in Massachusetts with input from the Division of Public Utilities & Carriers, municipal leaders, the League of Cities and Towns and the R.I. Emergency Management Agency.

The legislation would set performance standards for utility emergency response, with penalties of up to $100,000 daily per violation. It would also require annual emergency response plans and utility-designated community liaisons.

“Several months later, here we are again with some Rhode Islanders experiencing their fifth day without power on the eve of another storm. It’s time to pass House Bill 7306 and Senate Bill 2326 and hold the utility company accountable.”

Accounting for the delayed deployment of crews Saturday after winds subsided enough to allow crews to work safely, the response is about a day quicker than for the Oct. 29-30 storm, during which National Grid had power restored to about 154,000 customers within five days using 280 line crews. The utility deployed 300 line crews for the March 2 storm.

“I want to thank the men and women who had their feet on the ground working in life-threatening conditions around the clock to restore power in our communities. This is not about the employees. This is about a multibillion-dollar company based in the United Kingdom that has shown time and time again that they are not responsive to the needs of Rhode Islanders, but rather to the needs of their shareholders,” McKee said.

“We’re extremely proud of the planning and tireless effort of all those that have been involved in this restoration effort,” Kresse said when asked to respond to McKee’s criticism.

“We’ve been in close coordination with state agencies, first responders and our local communities throughout, which has been critical to getting our customers back online. It’s been a major undertaking but we still have a remaining few that we’re working to get back up as soon as possible. Our focus right now is on those customers and preparing for this next storm,” he added.

“After the October storm, I was very vocal about National Grid’s severely insufficient response and because of that pressure the Grid had more people on the ground to respond to Friday’s storm,” McKee said. “Increasing the number of crews is encouraging, but it is not the full picture and does not address what could have been done to proactively reduce the number of outages. I am confident that the utility company can do more to increase preparedness through improved year-round maintenance. It is for this exact reason that I addressed both the utility’s response and preparedness in my Storm Response Legislation.”

Meanwhile, DPUC is wrapping up its review of National Grid’s response to the October storm at the direction of Raimondo following statewide complaints of long waits for returned electrical service. Raimondo had directed regulators to review the company’s preparedness and restoration efforts.

Tom Kogut, DPUC spokesman, said that review will be complete in a matter of weeks. Kogut said the review looks at all aspects of the utility’s response to the October storm, starting with initial forecasts, “And then the actions during the response,” he said. Kogut said he could not comment on the results of the review to date, since the DPUC is still assessing its recommendations.

Kresse said a few things they’ve learned during that review include a need to improve their estimated time of restoration reports, providing the public with more information on what factors contribute to the estimates. Also, he said, they realized they need to do a better job of explaining the mission of wires down crews, who are posted to monitor downed wires and prevent injury or damage until qualified line crews can reach the scene.  He said they’ve begun equipping wires down crews with flyers that will explain their efforts.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at