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Boston utility faces second outage in two months

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Friday, May 11, 2012

A blackout on Tuesday brought a large swath of homes and businesses to darkness in Boston's Back Bay area, caused by an issue in the same substation that burst into flames in March, the Boston Globe reports.

According to the news source, the blackout spread from the Back Bay to nearby neighborhoods the South End and Fenway, echoing a similar blackout that left thousands powerless only months earlier. The power outage was under control within an hour, but led many residents and workers to wonder why Boston utility NStar had not completely resolved the issue in March.

"I’m sure there was a thought in everyone’s mind that it’s happening again," said Pamela Ackers, who lives in the Back Bay and was shopping in the Prudential Center when the highrise lost its power around noon. "It was only two months ago. How is it possible that it happened again? And will it be chalked up again as an unavoidable catastrophe?"

Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said the outage problems were "concerning."

"We are still awaiting a report that was due 60 days after the last incident," Joyce said. "This is a major business district and impacted a large area of our city."

The most recent outage cut power to 12,500 customers shopping in the area, NStar spokeswoman Caroline Pretyman told the news source. Pretyman added that the cause of the blackout is still under investigation, however she noted no electric infrastructure was damaged at the substation.

The outage led many security systems to be compromised, with banks closing their doors to customers even after the power had switched back on, while retailers accepted only cash for hours after shopping resumed. Boston's Apple Store was kept locked for up to 90 minutes after power had been restored.

As utilities across the country face power outages caused by storms and other disturbances, many are turning to new smart grid technologies that offer "self healing" capabilities that promise to drastically reduce repair time. These intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), which are installed on electric infrastructure, can isolate where a problem has occurred and report it to the utility.

The swarm of IEDs that are hitting the market provide utilities with never-before-seen amounts of data. To access and manage this information, SUBNET has developed several solutions, including its Unified Fault File Management.

The system allows utilities to automatically collect, archive and view fault records from a wide installed base of disparate vendor relays. 

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