EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 20, 2013

Record-high temps lead to power grid warnings

By Bill Kirk
bkirk@eagletribune.com

---- — The agency responsible for transmitting electricity throughout New England implemented a series of steps yesterday aimed at coping with the record-high heat and the huge demand for power.

ISO New England declared yesterday at 3 p.m. that there was a “capacity deficiency” in the regional power grid as Boston Logan Airport reached a peak temperature of 99 degrees, a record for the day. In addition to a request for voluntary conservation issued Thursday, the agency implemented several other steps to manage the deficiency.

According to the ISO website and updates that were emailed to various public safety officials throughout the state, as of noon ISO New England put out a “power caution” for all of New England. The designation is the first and lowest step of 11 that ISO takes in the event that demand exceeds energy supply.

In Action 1, as it’s called, ISO advises power companies to “prepare to provide all associated capacity.” At 2:20 p.m. yesterday, Action 2 was declared, and at 3 p.m., Action 3 was declared.

According to National Grid spokesman David Graves, the actions are taken during peak demand incidents and are advisories to the power companies in New England to send people to the substations in the event a voltage reduction is needed.

In addition, ISO put out Action 5, which is an advisory to power companies to cut back energy use in their own facilities. They are requested to turn off lights and work stations that aren’t being used, for example.

Those higher action requests were called off at 6 p.m., but a “power caution” remained in place last night as of about 8 p.m.

“That’s about as far as we get,” Graves said, referring to level 5. The real concern is when ISO issues Action 9, 10 or 11, he said, which is when rolling blackouts are implemented.

“That’s when it could lead to ‘load-shedding,’” he said. “You physically shut down the distribution system, and turn out power to one section while you leave power on for another section.”

Meanwhile, the public has been asked to turn their air conditioners up to 78 and put their blinds down to keep the sun’s rays out of their homes. The higher temperature setting will save on energy use as well as consumers’ electric bills.

The heat may have contributed to a series of power outages that struck Andover and several other Merrimack Valley communities.

Graves said a power line gave out somewhere in Andover yesterday afternoon, affecting 2,100 homes and businesses for a couple of hours, mostly in Andover.

Another 150 customers in North Andover and more than 600 in Windham also lost power.

Graves said the Andover outage was focused on Shawsheen Street as well as Porter Road and Salem Street. A number of customers in the downtown area, including The Andover Townsman on Bartlett Street and the CVS on Main Street also lost power for about two hours.

“Failures happen from time to time,” Graves said. “There is a lot of electricity going through the lines, creating a lot of friction, which creates a lot of heat. If there’s a weak spot in the line, that could exacerbate a pre-existing condition and cause it to fail.”

Later in the day, at around 7 p.m., another outage struck pretty much the same area, leading to the loss of power for about 1,200 customers.

National Grid crews found that a circuit breaker had been tripped on a pole on Salem Street. The circuit breaker was re-set, he said, and power was restored at around 8 p.m.

He said the original reason for the problem remains unknown.

“It happens for a variety of reasons,” he said. “But no cause was found.”

Several downtown businesses were affected by the outage, including Salvatore’s on 34 Park St.

When the power went out, the fans in the kitchen shut down, and the smoke from cooking set off the smoke alarms, the manager/owner said. The restaurant was evacuated for a short period of time until the power was restored and the smoke cleared.