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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wallingford Electric Division outshines the big boys

As published in the Record Journal Tuesday November 1, 2011

By Robert Cyr
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD — As larger electric companies in the state continue to report record-breaking power outages after the weekend snowstorm, Wallingford’s Electric Division has kept the lights on for most of its customers and has made the town something of an oasis for other communities without power.

The storm has been called far more severe and unexpected than Tropical Storm Irene in August, and Wallingford residents once again fared better than those of Connecticut Light & Power, which was working Monday to restore power to 60 percent of its customers, or 753,289 households statewide. At the height of the storm, about 4,000 customers of Wallingford’s public utility were without power; that number had been reduced to Monday morning, just 4 percent of the Electric Division’s 25,000 ratepayers.

Director of Public Utilities George Adair said there’s no secret to the division’s success, but he credited some of it to ongoing efforts to upgrade electric poles and aging hardware. Trees that could pose problems are also trimmed on a four-year cycle, he said, but he said he’s not certain that other utility companies don’t do the same thing.

“From the standpoint of the system itself, I think it’s well maintained,” he said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily unique. You start with the primary stuff and work your way out. We were fortunate in that we still have transmission service and we haven’t lost our ability to receive energy.”

The division buys its power from the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, but it is not a member. The cooperative, based in Norwich, provides electricity to more than 66,000 customers throughout the state.

Being in one of the few area towns with power has its advantages for some business owners.

Ray Porto and his grandson, Tom, were a busy duo on Monday at the Citgo service station at 480 N. Colony Road. Ray Porto said he’s owned the station for 65 years and would likely run out of gas today if his delivery was late.

With cars lined up and down the road to the station’s lot and blocking the bay doors, he was unable to open his garage to get cars in for service or get fixed cars out.

“This is unbelievable. I never went through what I’m going through right now,” he said. “People just want to get in here because they don’t want to run out of gas.

Tom Porto, working the counter, said he had customers drive from as far as Canton for gas for their cars and generators.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” he said. “We quadrupled our business, at least.”

Division officials said they hoped to get outages below 500 before the end of the day Monday. Crews from Groton Utilities helped Wallingford workers through Public Power Mutual Aid.

CL&P customers in Southington experienced 12,512 outages, or about 64 percent of the town. Almost all of Cheshire’s 11,236 customers — 92 percent, or 10,421 customers — were without power. Meriden also experienced widespread outages. As of Monday afternoon, 24,377 out of 27,670 customers had no electricity, according to the CL&P website.

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