Maura In The News

Nstar report backs utility
Stray voltage problem eyed

By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff | April 16, 2004

An inspection of about 24,000 manhole covers, 18,000 of them in Boston, found that "99.99-plus percent" showed no stray electrical voltage, NStar officials said in a report submitted to state regulators yesterday.

The report said those findings back the utility's assertion that it is largely blameless for several incidents involving dogs that were shocked or electrocuted in Boston.

The inspections of company-owned manhole covers in 81 Eastern Massachusetts communities detected about 18 instances of "adverse stray voltage" on electrical equipment owned by companies or entities other than NStar, the report said. In 12 instances, stray voltage was found in areas under the supervision and control of NStar -- five of which resulted from the removal of streetlights and three of which resulted from damage to the lines from third parties, according to the report, which did not address the other four instances. NStar spokeswoman Christina McKenna said the cause of the damage was unknown.

"We're very pleased with what we found," McKenna said. "But even one instance is too many."

The report's findings about seven incidents in which stray electric current shocked dogs or their owners, and in one instance killed a dog, showed that either no electric current was found at the site or the electric current problem was attributed to a business other than NStar.

"This means that undetected and adverse stray voltage does not occur on the company's system unless the integrity of the system is somehow compromised without the company's knowledge," the report's executive summary said.

The report was requested by officials at the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, which regulates the utility, after the incidents in the past several months in which the dogs and people received shocks from electric current emanating from city streets. The utility also included a detailed safety plan to address stray voltage, including more inspections.

Officials from the state agency also instructed Western Massachusetts Electric Co., Northeast Utilities, and Massachusetts Electric to submit similar reports on stray voltage. A review of those reports is expected to take several weeks, officials with the Department of Telecommunications and Energy said.

Paul G. Afonso, chairman of the agency, said yesterday that a team of engineers and analysts would review the reports to determine if the problems were systemic or isolated.

"I'm not interested in the blame game," he said. "I'm interested in getting this rectified."

NStar previously had denied responsibility for stray voltage that injured or killed dogs walking on Boston streets, saying the incidents in Charlestown, Chinatown, and Mission Hill were caused by construction crews that mishandled underground lines. In 11 other reported cases, including one in Roslindale, NStar said the dogs and their owners were shocked by stray electricity from city-owned streetlights or other utilities not owned or operated by NStar.

At a March 8 City Council hearing, city officials, including former Inspectional Services commissioner Kevin Joyce, blamed NStar for many of the problems and accused the utility of failing to properly maintain and oversee its underground lines. The hearing was called by Councilor at Large Maura Hennigan after the death in Charlestown in February of a Labrador retriever.

Told of the report's findings yesterday, Hennigan said that even if NStar had found that 1 percent of the manholes inspected were charged with stray electricity, it was still serious. "If you happen to be electrocuted by one of those . . . manholes in the city," she said, "you're just as dead."


? Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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