Eversource Improvements Could Boost Service Reliability In Chatham

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Public Utilities

Utility workers in downtown Chatham.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM — In the short term, new electrical equipment being installed in downtown Chatham aims to help town officials charge their new electric vehicles. But in the longer term, it’s designed to reduce the number and duration of power outages in the downtown area.

John Ventura, Eversource Manager of Distribution System Engineering, spoke to selectmen last week to secure permission to install two new transformers near the town offices at 549 Main St. A small transformer will be installed directly behind town offices, across the driveway from the pubic rest rooms. It will serve the town offices and the new electric vehicle charging stations for town vehicles. A second, larger unit will be placed on a concrete pad at the corner of the town hall parking lot near the Raveis Real Estate office.

“The second transformer will serve as a backup unit for the entire area and will reduce the load on the single transformer that currently serves the areas around Main Street, East Main Street and all of Morris Island,” Eversource spokesman Reid Lamberty said. “We will also be making upgrades to some of our existing equipment on Main Street, Cross Street, School Street and Morris Island Road for better reliability.”

About 1,300 customers in the downtown area are serviced by a single transformer on Crowell Road. On Aug. 4, 2012, high electrical demand caused a failure at the Crowell Road substation, leaving downtown businesses and residents without electrical service for two to three hours. A few downtown customers were without service for as long as 11 hours. In 2013, the utility—known at the time as NStar—installed a new transformer with double the previous capacity.

But power supply problems remain an issue in the town.

“Chatham is at an extreme end of our system, with no transmission lines or major stations in the town,” Lamberty said. “All customers are served from stations and transmission lines in Orleans and Harwich. Having a very large coastline, reliability is impacted heavily by storms, damaged trees, osprey nests, and salt contamination.”

Using multiple smaller transformers scattered around town is part of Eversource’s strategy to improve reliability.

“It is a new approach we are using to improve redundancy and power quality for customers, especially in town centers,” he said.

The goal with the current project is to add a transformer “right in the center of town, where the load is,” Ventura said. The new equipment can be remotely controlled, so in the event of an outage in town, dispatchers in Plymouth can re-route electrical service to restore power more quickly.

“We recognize there’s issues,” Ventura said. “We want to invest in the area and make it better.”

Selectmen unanimously granted permission for Eversource to conduct the work, and will likely consider similar requests in the weeks and months ahead.

“To further reduce outage impacts and durations, a total of eight remotely controllable switching devices will be installed across Chatham,” Lamberty said. “Next year, we plan additional upgrades for western Chatham near George Ryder Road, Sam Ryder Road, and Route 28. Construction has already started and is expected to be complete by 2021.”

Those improvements will help resolve the persistent problems in that part of town, DPW Director Tom Temple told the board last week. When outages occur there, the town loses the ability to remotely monitor the water system’s pumps and storage tanks, he said, and the improvements should lessen the problem.

“This is something that we’re very in favor of,” Temple said.