Utility cites ‘very rare’ failure in Wednesday’s blackout

  • The sun shines through high-tension power lines by the Turners Falls Power Canal.

  • A failed insulator on a transmission line sparks a fire in Holyoke, Wednesday, that caused thousands of area homes and businesses to lose power.

Published: 11/16/2017 10:39:20 PM

HOLYOKE — An insulator failure on a Holyoke Gas & Electric transmission line that triggered a widespread blackout on Wednesday was the first such incident in the company’s 115-year history, a spokeswoman said.

“The insulator failure that occurred on Nov. 15 was a very rare situation,” Kate Sullivan said in a statement.

The failure shortly before 9 a.m. caused the transmission line to fall and ignite a nearby tree. The Holyoke Fire Department and Holyoke Gas & Electric crews responded to the scene and extinguished the fire at around 9:30 a.m., according to Sullivan. An insulator on a transmission line is hardware that attaches the wire to the pole, Sullivan explained.

While no Holyoke Gas & Electric customers were affected by the power cut, the incident triggered responses on a transmission line from both Eversource and National Grid. The Holyoke company said it was not immediately clear what caused the outages in surrounding communities.

Eversource’s utility system is built with protection devices similar to large-scale circuit breakers, which shut down when a problem is detected, spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said. When Eversource’s system shut down, that affected a feeder line to a National Grid substation.

The failure affected sections of Northampton, Easthampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Hadley and Amherst. Other area communities experiencing power loss were Chesterfield, Williamsburg, Goshen, Westfield and Holyoke. In all, some 29,000 customers in Hampshire County were without power during the peak of the outage. More than half of Eversource’s customers had power restored within about an hour, and all had their power restored by about noon. National Grid customers had their power restored by 1:10 p.m, spokesman Robert Kievra said Wednesday.

The Holyoke Gas & Electric line was inspected twice in the past year — March and October — and no signs of any problems were found, according to Sullivan. The utility’s maintenance plan has earned it the American Public Power Association’s highest recognition for reliability, she said.

The utility is conducting a full investigation, Sullivan said, after which it will review its regular maintenance plan and make any necessary improvements.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.
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