Power Update, Highland Street

Electrical power service was restored at about 3.30 pm on Highland Street after being out since last Saturday at about 8 p.m. I’m watching the TV news with one eye while writing this, and can see that lots of folks are still in the cold and dark. Jack Harper on Channel 5 just reported from Chelmsford with videotape of massive tree and wire damage. We had heard it might be Thursday night before Highland Street got plugged in again, but lucked out, I guess. This morning on WCAP, Lowell Regional Transit Authority head Jim Scanlon described the difficulties at the Gallagher Terminal, which had been out of power as long as the houses on Highland Street. And the Courthouse was down, as Dick has noted in Tweets and his post today. I hope his sub-neighborhood comes online soon.

It was a maddening three days because of the lack of information and the patchy pattern of outages in the city at least. We could see lights on other streets from our yard, but had to wait until it was our turn to get turned on again. There isn’t extensive tree or wire damage in the immediate area, so the situation was confusing. Was there a busted connection in Rhode Island that was the root of our trouble? You could only wonder. We got by with battery-powered radios, flashlights, oil lamps, candles, and a Blackberry that lasted 2.5 days before running down. Luckily, there was a gas heater in one room on the first floor and a gas kitchen stove for cooking. We had phone service to check in with people near and far. With the Blackberry, I periodically checked online for updates from the Sun, City Hall, and local blogs. There wasn’t a lot of information flying around. Kudos to WCAP for the morning show, which was a lifeline for a lot of people. Local radio proved its value again.

Some people are still in the crisis, so it’s premature to step back and assess too much. I do have one big recommendation for state and federal governments, though. If there ever was an infrastructure project worth pushing it is to bury all the lines that we depend on (phone, electrical, cable, etc). Think how many civil and electrical engineers, construction workers, truck drivers, material suppliers, and so forth would be needed to do that on a five to ten year completion schedule. I have no idea how long it would take or what it would cost, but we found a trillion dollars for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need something huge to get the country moving. We need to “go to the moon” right at home. It isn’t fancy, but the result would save immeasurable money over the long term. Think about the economic losses in recent tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, and blizzards due to power outages? And think of how much better everything would look without the mega-miles of wire-and-pole like fences in the sky slicing our view.

One Response to Power Update, Highland Street

  1. Robert says:

    Our town considered it. The estimate that came up during Town Meeting was $1 million per mile (I don’t remember if that was linear or square; I suspect linear) to make the switch, so we considered just changing over the downtown. However, our downtown is in a flood plain. Underground utilities are more at risk during floods and harder to repair when there are problems in general. I suspect part of the problem, too, is that there aren’t regular grids to the street patterns out here (the way there are in my home state of CA, where most development is new and usually on a fairly geometric grid), so that gaining rights of ways, straight lines for high voltage passage, etc., would make costs even more prohibitive.

    It’s amazing how difficult it is for us to live our lives when we lack this thing that 99% of human history managed to get by without. I suppose it was the same thing with fire, once that was tamed.