National Grid calls for electric rate hike in Rhode Island

Sun file photo

HOPKINTON — When Tropical Storm Henri slammed southwestern Rhode Island towns in August, it exposed the fragility of the community’s electric system — the storm left more than 4,000 National Grid customers without service.

Three days later, as the company sought to address widespread damage across the state, nearly 1,000 customers were still without power as summer drew to a close and families prepared to head back to school.

Town staff, including Director of Public Works David Caswell, and members of the town council, led by Scott Bill Hirst as liaison, have been working with the company since in an effort to reduce the potential for and duration of electrical service outages within the town. The efforts have led to a targeted focus to address overhanging trees and other tree issues that could negatively impact infrastructure, Caswell and Hirst said this week, and includes an abatement schedule that will see several areas, including Chase Hill Road and Maxson Hill Road, trimmed and properly maintained over the next year.

The Diamond Hill Road area would be addressed in 2023 under the current maintenance schedule.

The project, which is part of a four-year schedule of maintenance to remove and trim trees that threaten National Grid electric equipment such as power lines and transformers, will aid in addressing the underlying causes of some of the more prolonged and expansive outages in recent years, Caswell told members of the Hopkinton Town Council this week.

Following a meeting at the Crandall House on Monday with Paul Stasiak and several arborists with National Grid, and Joe Shilling, an engineer with the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, Caswell said he is confident that the company is working to efficiently and effectively address any issues within the town.

“Mr. Shilling and I had a lengthy discussion afterward. He said that at this point he has been tasked by the governor to look into incidents and to continue to follow up with the results from today’s meeting,” Caswell said.

The recent discussions come following a growing number of complaints by residents regarding the frequency and duration of electrical service outages in recent years. The most recent widespread outage occurred after Hurricane Henri hit Westerly, causing significant damage particularly to towns to the east and northeast of the Rhode Island-Connecticut border.

In the past month, the town was once again struck with three separate outages, and a small segment of the population was impacted by all three, Caswell said. The problems were not the result of system or maintenance issues, however — an animal was cited as the cause of one outage, a motor vehicle for causing the second, and a tree branch that struck an electrical line during a non-storm period causing damage was responsible for the third.

Caswell and Hirst told council members this week that with the trees being addressed and other planned work in the near future, including the installation of additional equipment to mitigate the impact of outages when incidents do occur.

“Basically, we have some good news in that they are talking about putting in two new fuses in, which are specifically designed to reduce the number of power outages,” Hirst said. “It may not solve everything, but it is at least a step in the right direction.”

While the efforts will provide some solution, Caswell did warn that even with a wide effort to remove any impeding trees, National Grid will still be somewhat limited in scope in terms of what can be done.

Caswell said that the average cost to remove a tree stands at around $1,000, with some slightly more or less depending on size. He noted that even with the effort, the town will still be combatting ongoing challenges like damage caused by gypsy moths, droughts and the emerald ash borer, which kills trees and can cause significant issues by causing trees to rot from the bottom or inside.

“National Grid doesn’t own trees, and the company spends a lot of money on tree removal already in this town,” Caswell said. “They have gone above and beyond in helping us remove targeted trees, and we need to keep that in mind.”

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