NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — A report released by the state on Wednesday outlined the causes of a natural gas outage that affected thousands of residents and businesses on Aquidneck Island back in January.
For a week, in freezing temperatures, nearly 7,500 National Grid customers—about 10,000 people in all—were without natural gas service. Utility crews had to go door-to-door to shut off every gas meter before the system could be repressurized, after which every pilot light had to be relit.
According to the report from the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (RIPUC), National Grid—identified specifically as Narragansett Electric—shut down that portion of its gas distribution system at 6:50 p.m. on Jan. 21 due to a “low-pressure condition” in the Algonquin pipeline (the interstate pipeline that serves much of Rhode Island).0
RIPUC launched its investigation the following week, which revealed the low pressure was caused by three key factors: a sudden, high demand for gas driven by low temperatures, the failure of a power system at the liquified natural gas (LNG) storage and vaporization facility in Providence, and a malfunctioning valve stemming from a programming error at a meter station in Weymouth, Mass.
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The report also highlighted a number of forecasting and planning errors made by National Grid that left the gas distribution system vulnerable to the effects of a low-pressure condition. The agency concluded that the service interruption could’ve been avoided had National Grid and Enbridge Inc.—which owns and operates the Algonquin pipeline—taken earlier appropriate actions.
RIPUC said it will oppose any efforts by National Grid to recover the $25 million in costs incurred as a result of the outage. The utility will also be cited for failing to notify RIPUC of the shutdown of the Providence facility.
RIPUC also included in the report the following recommendations for National Grid:
- Improve gas long-range planning
- Deploy LNG facilities on Aquidneck Island
- Evaluate reinforcement of the Algonquin lateral pipeline serving Portsmouth
- Implement demand response initiatives on Aquidneck Island
- Conduct scenario-based contingency and emergency response planning
- Evaluate the feasibility of sectionalized gas districts in Newport
- Establish a process for emergency mobilization of LNG
- Create an outage mapping and tracking process
- Conduct an after-action review process
- Improve communications between Narragansett Electric and Algonquin
- Appoint a vice president to supervise the gas business for Rhode Island
- Implement the recommendations of the PHMSA report on this incident
National Grid released a statement Wednesday saying it doesn’t agree with everything in the report but has been working to learn from the incident and has already implemented a number of the above recommendations:
“Last winter we experienced an unprecedented gas supply event. The Aquidneck Island community and National Grid were part of extraordinary response that included a thousand employees and tens of thousands of residents coming together to help each other through those challenging days and nights. Everything we did in the minutes, hours, and days following was driven by a need to ensure the safety of our customers.
“Since then, we have been working hard to learn from that event and take what actions we can to provide secure energy for Aquidneck Island. Over the last several months, we have fully cooperated with the federal investigation as well as the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers in their summary investigation. We have answered hundreds of data requests, and met with them on multiple occasions to help determine what can be done to help protect against another supply interruption.
“Although we don’t agree with everything in the report, we are pleased the Division’s report reflects National Grid’s fundamental commitment to safety and our exemplary emergency response. And we are appreciative of their diligence in examining all aspects of the incident, including the areas where we excelled and where we could improve. In fact, we have already addressed many of the proposed recommendations included in their report, securing additional winter gas supplies, expanding our energy efficiency and demand response programs, and improving long-range planning.
“While we will carefully review these reports over the coming days, the findings confirm our concerns regarding operations of the Algonquin transmission system. Had the transmission system performed as expected, the outage would not have occurred. More importantly, we are focused on the winter ahead and Rhode Island’s energy future. The Aquidneck community should have confidence that gas reliability and future gas service on the Island are a top priority for us. As the local gas distribution company, we are here working with our communities and taking the steps necessary to meet this objective. We want to do everything possible to secure the ongoing energy needs of Aquidneck Island.”