Cause Not Yet Known for Back Bay Blackout

By WGBH News

Mar. 15, 2012

back bay fire

The blackout in the Back Bay Tuesday night. (Tom Stohlman/Flickr)

BOSTON — All is not back to normal in Boston's Back Bay, as anyone who lives or works there knows. Miles of thick wire cross the neighborhood and the jackhammering and digging rattle on. WGBH News' Emily Rooney got the latest updates at noon Thursday.
Mike Durand, NStar spokesman
Q: What caused the failure?
Durand: At this point our focus continues to be restoring power to the remaining customers. As far as the exact cause, that will be part of our ongoing investigation after we've shifted our focus.
Q: What's going on with all the wires?
Durand: The generators are all on large flatbeds. These are one- and two-megawatt generators and we have about 50 of them … those have to be connected with cables. And we have jumper cables from areas that are unaffected to serve areas that are. It's a massive effort … it's an incredible thing to be bringing in that many of those generators to a city like Boston.
Q: What will happen with the current setup?
Durand: Because the generators and the cables are part of a temporary fix to restore power as quickly as we can, more work definitely is necessary in the coming days before we can restore everyone to the grid … what you've seen largely in the city so far, being a temporary fix, will go away …. Because of the level of work that's required to make the permanent repairs it was definitely in our customers' best interest to get these temporary fixes in place.
City councilor Stephen Murphy
Q: Talk about the cost.
Murphy:  … the resources the city put forward, not only just fire but police, there was traffic — to hold order we had over 135 police officers called in for overtime to basically maintain order … the city is going to have to eat that.
Q: What happens next?
Murphy: We thought we'd have a need to get in touch with NStar and bring them in to find how out old is this equipment, how long has it been used, how much is it inspected, who other than NStar inspects it, is there a timeline for capital improvements? … I'm not blaming NStar. I don't want to come down hard on them. I know things can happen like this. I just want to put us in a position where we're working with them to make sure that we're doing it right going forward so every preventative measure we can take is in place so it doesn't happen again.

> >  WGBH News: The scene on Wednesday

A statement from Michael Durand:

NStar is grateful to the residents and officials in the City of Boston. We understand the urgency of the situation and are dedicating all available resources to the restoration effort.

NStar crews have been and continue to work tirelessly to restore power to the remaining customers who are affected by Tuesday night’s substation fire. The restoration effort is very complex and has been a combination of damage assessment, restoration planning and the installation of more than 50 massive generators in strategic locations along with jumper cables to provide temporary power. Because the generators and cables are part of a temporary fix to restore power as quickly as possible, more work will be necessary in the coming days before we can move everyone back onto the grid.

So far, we’ve restored power to about 17,000 customers. To restore power to the remaining 4,000 customers, our crews have to enter and work in over 100 manholes. We also have to be in touch with customers to get access to the electrical vaults, make sure all jumper cables are safely connected and make sure our employees are in position. This requires a large amount of coordination with safety being a top priority.

Since we began providing good-faith estimates as to when power would be restored, we know the timeline has been pushed back. The restoration process of the underground system is extremely complex and we have every available resource dedicated to the effort. We expect power to be restored to the remaining customers later today, with the Prudential Tower likely being among the last of those customers, due to the fact that it is served from a separate circuit.

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