1 year after Aquidneck Island gas outage: What’s changed since?

East Bay

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. (WPRI) — Tuesday marks one year since thousands of homes and businesses on Aquidneck Island lost natural gas service, leaving many of them without heat for a week.

In freezing temperatures, nearly 7,500 National Grid customers – about 10,000 people in all – were without natural gas. In a painstaking process, utility crews had to go door-to-door to shut off every gas meter individually before the system could be repressurized, after which every pilot light had to then be relit.

Business owners are still affected by the event to this day, including Pour Judgement owner Hank Whitin who had to shut down his bar and restaurant for several days.

“Anything you cook with was shut down,” Whitin explained. “Fryolaters, grill, ovens. Can’t do anything.”

A report found the low pressure was caused by three key factors:

  • High demand for driven by low temperatures
  • A failed power system at the LNG facility in Providence
  • Malfunction valve caused by a programming error at a meter station in Weymouth, Mass.

In response, National Grid released a Natural Gas Winter Reliability Plan in hopes of preventing such a crisis from happening again. The plan includes:

  • Measures to increase supply when demand is high
  • Refined “contingency plan” procedures
  • Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) equipment to use at its property on Old Mill Lane in Portsmouth

Whitin tells Eyewitness News that in a week, the bar lost between $25,000 and $35,000 when it had to unexpectedly close.

“We had to work with all of our vendors,” he said. “We started borrowing money.”

Whitin was one business owner who took advantage of the state’s emergency loan program and was able to borrow $25,000, but he says he’s still paying it back today.

To try and expedite paying that loan, he joined a class-action lawsuit with other local businesses.

National Grid spokesperson Ted Kresse says in addition to the Natural Gas Winter Reliability Plan, they have been meeting regularly with key stakeholders from the Aquidneck communities, the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, the Office of Energy Resources, and others to discuss efforts while also hearing from the community about their concerns and priorities.

“We believe we have done everything we can to help avoid another service disruption, but we can only control the distribution system that we maintain,” Kresse said. “We depend heavily on the transmission companies and their operations to ensure the delivery of supply to us and our customers.”

Sen. Lou DiPalma tells Eyewitness News that not enough has been done to prevent a similar outage.

“While National Grid had employed a temporary LNG source on Old Mill Lane in Portsmouth, this is most definitely not a long-term solution nor provide the means to completely satisfy Aquidneck Island’s gas demands,” DiPalma said. “We need to resurrect the mothballed facility which exists at Naval Station Newport.”

DiPalma said for long-term results, they need to ensure a reliable and resilient gas transmission and distribution system on Aquidneck Island.

DiPalma also mentioned two bills from the 2019 session. One describes the commission he will be chairing which aims to ensure Rhode Island has a Reliable/Resilient Natural Gas/Electric Transmission/Distribution Infrastructure system. More information on that bill can be found here.

“It is my hope that the aforementioned commission will identify the needed steps to assure an uninterrupted gas flow on Aquidneck Island,” DiPalma said.

The other bill, for which DiPalma is the lead sponsor, seeks to make sure every electric distribution/natural gas distribution company conducting business in the state would submit to the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers in an emergency response plan for review and approval. More information on that bill can be found here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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