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Lawmaker on power outages: ‘Make sure we’re getting what we pay for’

Target 12

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Power outages, which hit a 10-year high in Rhode Island last year, now have the attention of local lawmakers.

One is calling for underground power lines in certain impacted areas, while another wants more reliable service in exchange for Rhode Islanders paying “one of the highest” electricity rates in the country.

At the peak of Monday’s storm, about 40,000 area residents lost power, just the most recent weather-related outage.

Complaints about being left in the dark more often are backed by stats from the past five years.

In 2016, there were four storms and four significant outages. The totals have trended up since then with more storms and more outages, and by last month, there had been five distinct storms and six significant outages in 2020.

State Rep. Katherine Kazarian, D-East Providence, cited four outages over the past eight months in her district as one of the reasons she is calling on National Grid to address ratepayers’ concerns.

“Maybe it’s having a greater discussion around structural issues that are causing these constant outages,” Kazarian suggested. “Maybe we need to look at how we can re-envision power and access to power for our constituents.”

State Rep. Katherine Kazarian

National Grid spokesperson Jennifer Bray said the power company reached out to Kazarian on Wednesday “to get the specific dates of the outages she mentioned.”

“We are going to check on them and investigate to see if they are storm-related or an equipment problem,” Bray said. “We will then get back to her.”

Bray added that National Grid has prepared for storm events in 27 out of 36 weeks since March.

“With more storm events and more severe storm events these days, people are more dependent on electricity than in the past,” Bray said. “We do our best to safely and quickly restore power.”

Regarding the condition of the local electrical infrastructure, National Grid’s filings with the Public Utilities Commission indicate about $500 million has been spent on system upgrades over the past five years.

An average of $10 million a year is spent on trimming trees away from power lines in Rhode Island alone, according to the utility company.

Yet Kazarian is not the only lawmaker asking if National Grid is doing enough.

State Rep. Joseph Solomon Jr., D-Warwick, has proposed a bill that would force the utility to bury lines in any area that loses power for 96 straight hours or more within two years of the outage.

Kazarian said Solomon’s bill would be a great place to start.

“We are already paying for this service,” Kazarian said. “We need to make sure we’re getting what we pay for.”

Target 12 has received power problem complaints from local neighborhoods with underground lines. And according to Bray, burying existing lines might be cost prohibitive.

“Regarding undergrounding electric lines, it is very complicated and expensive for customers,” Bray said.

Kazarian said she is eager to start the discussion about “a solution” to the area’s outage issues as soon as possible.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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