Hanover Town Manager Troy Clarkson said it had always been in the interest of town leaders to explore starting a municipal utility company.
However, he is acting on the idea now because of continued frustrations with National Grid following the Blizzard of 2013.
“I think the continued frustration that National Grid’s commitment of resources [has caused], highlights the issue,” he said. “But it’s not the reason.”
Clarkson said selectmen singled out the possibility of forming a municipal utility company as something to look into quite a while ago. Hanover leaders have expressed concerns about the distribution of National Grid’s resources following Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy and the Blizzard of 2013.
“The selectmen had the foresight to anticipate this problem,” he said.
Clarkson said he and Hanover Fire Chief Jeff Blanchard would look into starting a town company. Blanchard’s role will be to describe the problems faced with National Grid. He would help find solutions with the town company. Clarkson said the idea is still in its initial stages.
“We will be reaching out to a couple of municipalities,” he said.
Several towns near Hanover have already made the switch from a major company to a town utility. Among the towns are: Hull, Braintree, Middleboro, Hingham and Taunton.
Clarkson said he would be discussing the topic with several towns to learn about the ups and downs of going without a national company.
“Communities should have the opportunity to nibble at the heels of those corporate behemoths,” he said. “Some of these towns have existed that way for a long time.”
Clarkson said the first step toward energy independence was to capture the momentum from the blizzard. The second step is to reach out, and he said he wouldn’t be narrow-minded with his exploration. He said he would look into the possibility of a significant wind power generator as well as any other option that may arise.
“I expect to have a full report by the end of the fiscal year,” Clarkson said. “We’ve already reached out to the commonwealth to see if they can provide us with any assistance.”
Blanchard said the main issue with National Grid’s service is the communication within the company. With a town utility the energy leaders would be talking directly with Blanchard, eliminating bureaucratic issues.
“The main problem with National Grid is not the boots on the ground,” Clarkson said. “We have to communicate with a nameless, faceless person.”
One example Blanchard used to describe the current situation was from the recent blizzard. A wires-down worker was sent to Hanover early on in the storm. He was going to stay in Hanover throughout the storm to assist the town with inevitable wires down issues.
However, when he arrived in town, there hadn’t been any reports of wires down yet, so he was reassigned to Pembroke. Blanchard said he never heard from the worker again.
He said if the company had been local, he would have been able to talk to the leadership and address the situation. Instead of just attempting to handle the fallout.
“They would have a representative in the emergency operations center,” he said. “We could look at each other and make those calls.”
The recent blizzard knocked out power to more than 1,600 Hanover homes. The storm mainly took place on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 8-9, but National Grid still had 1,100 Hanover customers without power on Monday, Feb. 11.
Hurricane Sandy didn’t have a major outage total in Hanover. During the storm only one telephone pole went down and Blanchard said at the time the reason there wasn’t an issue with National Grid was the lesser impact of the storm.
Charlotte McCormack, spokeswoman for National Grid said the main advantage to using a larger company like National Grid is the knowledge that the utility has the resources to handle a major weather event such as Hurricane Sandy or the Blizzard of 2013.
“At National Grid we take our responsibilities to our customers seriously, which is why we kept adding resources to address the significant damage the electrical infrastructure experienced during Nemo,” she said. “Our ability to add those resources and address outages as the weather cleared and roads became passable was recognized by emergency management personnel.”
Blanchard said he believes the increased efficiency of the crew would likely lead to shorter outages for town residents.
“That has been the example with the communities with their own municipal departments,” he said.
Clarkson said if after researching the idea further it still sounded like a good idea it wouldn’t be a long process to get up and running.
“I would hope to have something for next spring’s (2014) Town Meeting,” he said. “If it was urgent enough, we could call a special Town Meeting.”
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