Utility eyes $13 million Cape Ann power boost

CAPE ANN, MASS. -- - Last July, a three-day power outage stopped work at Gloucester Engineering and Varian Semiconductor Associates, and ruined one catering company's entire walk-in freezer system.

Now, utility giant National Grid is proposing a plan that could make such summer blackouts at Blackburn Industrial Park a thing of the past. The company has a $13 million upgrade to Cape Ann's electrical service slated for construction next fall.

The project will lay a new underground cable from Grid's East Beverly substation up through Gloucester. That cable will help the utility handle blackouts like last July's three-day event, and increase the supply of electricity throughout the region from Hamilton to Rockport.

"It's to allow for additional capacity," said Marie Jordan, Grid's vice president of electrical systems engineering.

Jordan said National Grid will start designing and buying cable for the project next month and hopes to break ground on the work next fall.

The project calls for laying a 15-mile line from Beverly to Gloucester that should be in service in the summer of 2013, Jordan said.

Right now, National Grid provides electricity to Cape Ann through three 35 kilovolt above-ground power lines and three 23kv underground lines. The new line will replace the oldest of the three underground lines, said Jordan. The new line, she added, will be able to handle more demand than the other lines. It will also improve the reliability of the area's electrical service, she said.

When power goes down because of a fault in one of the cables -- like it did last July -- the utility puts that line's demand on the remaining lines. But the power stayed down last summer because two of the three underground lines faulted simultaneously.

That outage cost Varian and Gloucester Engineering tens of thousands of dollars, and cost Classic Cooks, the local catering company, $3,000 after the contents of its walk-in refrigerator molded in the heat.

Gloucester Engineering, said spokesman Lloyd Rothaus, is looking forward to the coming upgrades.

"At Gloucester Engineering, we depend upon consistent power," Rothaus said in an e-mail to the Times. "All that can be done to eliminate brownouts that affect our operations we view as positive step.".

Jordan said National Grid has invested $60 million in Cape Ann's electrical infrastructure in recent years. The coming upgrade, she said, will increase the supply to Cape Ann. The demand, she said, is expected to grow by 20 percent by 2026.

Grid representatives Dan Cameron and Elton Prifti told the City Council last week that the upgraded service is expected to last 12-15 years.

City Council President Jackie Hardy said that isn't long enough to mesh with the city's long-term planning.

"Long-term planning," she said "depends on long-term infrastructure."

The industrial park, meanwhile, has been prone to blackouts before.

State Sen. Bruce Tarr said his office and the utility have been talking about upgrades to the area for the last few years. The blackouts, he said, were unacceptable last year and, at times, kept Varian -- Gloucester's and Cape Ann's largest employer -- from operating. National Grid supplied some other companies with generators.

"They have to address not only some day-to-day issues, but do something to increase the supply," said Tarr.


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