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Keller @ Large: How To Fix Routine Power Outage Issues

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A tree came down onto live wires along a busy street in Natick.

A tree came down onto live wires along a busy street in Natick.

WBZ-TV's Jon Keller Jon Keller
Jon Keller is WBZ-TV News' Political Analyst, and his "Keller A...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Gov. Deval Patrick said many homes and businesses may not get their electricity back before the end of the week following the weekend snow storm.

It’s the latest string of long, painful outages for people in several towns after a tornado and a tropical storm hit the state earlier this year.

It turns out that the answer isn’t in the cards. It’s in the trees.

“If you look at the Ice Storm, the hurricane, and this storm, the common denominator is really the trees,” said Craig Hallstrom, the NStar VP of Operations.

WBZ’s Jon Keller is at large:

Cutting back trees that threaten power lines is a big job, and one the utlities already spend millions on.

Do the power companies and the state need to change the way they prepare for storms and the way they respond to them?

“I think the utilities’ plans are sound. I think they’re executing on those plans well,” Patrick told WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller at a news conference Monday.

“I think if you’re the one who’s been without power for a day, then you are naturally frustrated. But I think that the number of crews – I think I’m right about this – is unprecedented and the mutual aid that we’re getting from as far away as Canada or Louisiana is very helpful.”

“This event, the National Weather Service actually gave us 24 hours in the forecast. They were very out in front of the storm,” MEMA Director Kurt Schwartz told reporters.

“It allowed us to spend up to 24 hours preparing, but there are some similarities. We’re in cold weather now, where in Irene we were in warm weather. It’s causing more challenges for people that are without power.”

So how can the state and utilities prevent widespread outages in the future?

Should all the power lines be buried underground?

“I love the idea,” Patrick said. “Apparently that’s a $1 trillion project across the whole of the Commonwealth.”

So how would it be paid for?

“No one has answered yet,” the governor said.

Larry Powers and his neighbors around Wilson Lane in Acton are in the dark this Halloween. “It looks very spooky, it has a spooky look to it, but this is reality.” And this reality is one they’ve seen before. Just two months ago, after Hurricane Irene, the same neighborhood was in the dark for five days.

Ann O’Grady says after the fear and frustration she felt during Irene, she was determined to demand change.

She says, “I wasn’t willing to go through that whole thing again. I called NStar and said you need to come to Acton and restore power to Acton much quicker than five days.”

And this time, they did. NStar crews are working through the night in the Wilson Lane to clear trees in the road and repair power lines.

WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson reports from Acton

O’Grady says she still plans to attend public hearings to voice her concerns about NStar’s the response to Irene.

State officials say utilities have learned lessons from the recent storms. They say they demanded the utilities do a better job communicating with the customers on their progress and plans, and have seen good results.

They say there are also more crews this time than the past storms. There are 1,500 crews on the ground as of Monday night, and 2000 are expected to be working by Tuesday morning.

Energy officials say part the problem with the ice storm was that it came as a surprise, and Irene’s lack of response is in part due to the fact that so many other states were affected and needed to keep their crews.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Martha Coakley released a statement:

“We are monitoring the restoration efforts currently underway by utility companies throughout the state. Some municipalities have again expressed concerns over a lack of communication and preparation for this unprecedented October snowstorm, similar to the reports we received after Tropical Storm Irene. We are actively reviewing those concerns.”

WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson contributed to this report.

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