October Snow Storm

JANUARY 2012 VOICE: When an unseasonable snowstorm accompanied by gale-force winds slammed into Massachusetts on October 30, nearly a million households were again without electricity up to a week or longer.

It was only three months earlier that tropical storm Irene had caused havoc in much of Massachusetts, making October’s blast a double-whammy when followed by a cold snap of below freezing nights. This left those members without a heat source in some peril.

The loss of power hardships brings to mind that there are a relatively small number of retirees, who can usually be comfortably assured that, regardless of downed power lines and National Grid’s or NStar’s lack of manpower to cope with lengthy outages, they are somewhat secure. Most of the time!

These members live in a community that has its own power source and public sector electric company employees who are always available to cope with their town’s downed power lines. Some have their own power plants, while most purchase their electricity which is transmitted via protective high voltage power lines which are not impeded by extreme weather conditions.

There are 41 such communities in the Commonwealth, all of which are members of the Northeast Public Power Association (NEPPA). These include such cities and towns as Taunton, Norwood, Peabody, Danvers, Wellesley, Shrewsbury and North Attleboro. At least one, Taunton, provides full service to three adjacent towns.

These 44 communities have a mutual aid agreement should another have a situation that needs help. For example, Wellesley, which also furnishes power and service to Ft. Devens, did not have a customer without power for longer than 10 hours during the October storm. “We also sent men to Chicopee, a NEPPA city that needed help,” said Wellesley’s longtime Electric Company Director, Dick Joyce.

While much of Sharon, Foxboro and Walpole were without power for up to four days, neighboring Norwood, with its own electric company, did not suffer an outage for more than an hour or two. “I’ve lived here all my life,” said Bobby Ivatts, a retired Norwood recreational director. “There’s never been a night without power in our house. The electric workers do a good job keeping the trees trimmed near the lines and our electric rates are also less costly than nearby towns.”

Ken Scanzio, a retired Walpole police officer, who lives in North Attleboro, a NEPPA town, said he had friends from other towns staying overnight in his house. “Except for less than 12 hours our town was pretty much with full electricity. We have an electric light department with a full crew, many of whom went to Western Mass. to help,” he said.

Even NEPPA Overwhelmed

On the other hand, as October’s exceptional storm proved, even communities with their own electric companies and crews can be overwhelmed when weather containing such turbulence, accompanied by 18 inches of heavy, wet snow, knocked down trees and limbs which in turn snapped power lines in rapid succession.

“We had to postpone a funeral it was so bad here. There were several days without electricity in most of the town,” said Linda Cavanaugh of the Westfield Retirement Board. Westfield, a city in Western, Mass., is a NEPPA member with its own electric company and crew.

Likewise, Chicopee, Holyoke and South Hadley, also NEPPA communities with their own workers, had to call in outside help and suffered much the same hardships as other cities and towns in Western Mass.

Kathy Gallivan, a retired UMass Amherst employee, lives in one of those towns, South Hadley. “We’ve always had excellent services, very few short outages,” she said. “But October’s storm, which wiped out our Halloween the next night, was an exception. Four days without electricity…and it was cold every minute of that time!”