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April 20, 2018  |  

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Lights Out: Madison Struggles with Power Outages

Published May 17, 2017 • Last Updated 02:32 pm, May 16, 2017

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For residents and businesses in the downtown area, the last two weeks have been punctuated by a series of short power outages. While town officials say the energy provider Eversource is looking into the issue, the frequent outages have caused a headache for business owners.

Calls started coming in to town officials with residents and business owners reporting a series of short power outages that lasted just a few seconds, but still managed to disrupt computer systems, phone lines, and set off security alarms. On April 28, First Selectman Tom Banisch said he notified Eversource of the problem.

“I called Eversource and I said, ‘Can you tell me what is going on?’ and [an Eversource representative] said ‘We haven’t heard anything about it, but let me look into it and see what I can find out,’” he said. “It probably took her a day or so to call me back and she said we have looked into it, we figured out what the problem is, and we have taken care of it.”

Banisch said Eversource did not explain the source of the problem, but said Eversource responded quickly. There was a more significant outage on May 10 that lasted closer to 20 seconds, but Banisch said he believes that outage was the result of an accident.

“It turns out it was due to an accident somewhere in town because right after that I heard the trucks go out,”

Eversource Spokesman Frank Poirot said in relation to the May 10 outage, the power loss was due to a squirrel on the line. He said Eversource recently installed switches on the line that will bypass the issue caused by animals or mild weather so that the outages only last a few seconds rather than a few hours. He said animals or branches could be the cause of the power disruptions over the past two weeks as well.

“The problems in the past two weeks could have been something similar like a branch slapping a line or even laying on a line for a little while,” he said. “Customers will see a dimming of their lights, but at the same time with these smart switches we are able to bypass the trouble spot.”

Banisch said Eversource will continue to monitor any potential outages over the next week, but whatever the cause, the power outages have been an inconvenience to businesses.

Madison Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Eileen Banisch said she heard a few complaints at a recent Chamber meeting. After living in town for nearly 39 years, Banisch said she has never seen a problem like this.

“It is frustrating,” she said. “Luckily it is only a surge and then it comes back on, it is not like a prolonged outage, but I think people are frustrated when if you are in the middle of a computer program or are on the phone [and experience an outage]…It is just frustrating for businesses to try to keep things going continually that have a disruption like that.”

Power outages generally shut down computer systems and trigger system alarms and Madison Beach Hotel General Manager John Mathers said it has been a major inconvenience. Whenever the power goes out, the fire alarms trigger and the Fire Department has to respond.

“Despite the brevity of these incidents, they shut down all of the systems in the hotel and then everything has to power back up,” he said. “The Fire Department is obligated to respond even though I call the Fire Department to tell them that it was a power outage and we have no emergency.”

Mathers said when he first reported the issue to Eversource, the company responded as if it had no knowledge of the incident. After the longer power loss on May 10, Mathers said Eversource finally said it would look into the issue.

“Just imagine you are in a restaurant and you want to leave and we can’t cash you out because our credit card system has gone down and it might come up in 10 minutes once it reboots, but you don’t want to wait,” he said. “There is a whole myriad of hassles this causes, so it is a major inconvenience and a little annoying.”

Some parents and students may have noticed another outage on May 9 that affected Daniel Hand High School, Polson Middle School, and Jeffrey Elementary School, but Facilities Director Bill McMinn said that particular outage was the result of a physically damaged power line.

“The line broke out in front of the school between the Polson driveway and the high school driveway,” he said. “Power was out for an hour for 100 percent when Eversource shut the power off between 11:45 and 12:45 so they could make the repairs.”

McMinn said this power failure is likely unrelated to other issues in town, but said it is never easy to deal with a power failure when students are in school.

“It is not a fun situation when we don’t have power to the schools,” he said. “They [Eversource] did bring all of their manpower here and they shut the power off totally for the neighborhood to fix the line for an hour.”

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