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NStar won’t pay damages; more outages planned

A worker paved steel plates that covered temporary power lines running near the Marriott Hotel on Huntington Avene in Boston on Friday.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

A worker paved steel plates that covered temporary power lines running near the Marriott Hotel on Huntington Avene in Boston on Friday.

Despite a two-day blackout in the Back Bay that shuttered businesses and cost some wage-earners their pay, NStar officials said Friday that the utility will not pay damages for lost business, income, or food.

“If it’s a normal situation, we do not typically, when there is an outage, provide for losses,” Thomas May, the top official of the utility, said in an interview. “We do not typically do it for an event that lasts for a day, a day and a half. ... People normally have their own insurance.”

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A normal outage, according to NStar, includes mechanical failure and even ones caused by snowstorms and hurricanes.

“We do not reimburse customers for lost business or lost food,” spokeswoman Caroline Pretyman said.

The transformer fire Tuesday night that cut power to 21,000 residential and business customers in the Back Bay was caused by mechanical failure, and not human error or negligence, Pretyman said. As such, she added, the utility is not liable for business or income losses. The effect of the outage was felt far beyond those who are customers of NStar. The sprawling Prudential Center, for example, counts 8,000 workers in hundreds of offices and stores.

Meanwhile this afternoon, NStar, which said this morning that it had finally restored power to all the areas affected by the fire, said it needed to cut power to 8,000 customers in the overnight hours to further its repair work.

The company said it needed the planned outage as workers changed the customers “from a temporary connection to the company’s permanent underground network.” The outage will begin at 3 a.m. and last up to three hours, “barring any unforeseen circumstances,” the company said in a news release.

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NStar’s stance on damages is likely to cause friction with Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has demanded that the utility reimburse restaurants for spoiled food, pay restaurant workers for lost wages, and cover overtime costs for police and other city employees.

The mayor met for 30 minutes Friday morning in his City Hall office with May, whom he urged to open an NStar office in Back Bay so that residents, workers, and employees who work in the neighborhood will have a place to file claims for losses during the blackout.

Pretyman said residents will be reimbursed for certain losses connected with the outage, such as the cost of having a car towed. She directed residents to the utility’s website for a claim form.

Power has been restored to all the remaining areas that lost electricity after a billowing fire Tuesday night damaged a transformer near the Prudential Center. However, NStar officials cautioned that scattered outages might remain, and asked that affected customers notify the utility.

“Everybody’s pretty much up and on right now,” May said.

One example where damages might be paid, May said, would be “if there had been a lingering and persistent issue where a neighborhood or residence had very, very poor reliability over a period of time until we were able to repair or replace the system.”

The Back Bay Blackout does not meet that standard, he said, adding that “we will probably follow our practices.”

At Thornton’s Restaurant on Huntington Avenue, a no-frills breakfast and lunch place, manager Matt Prizand said the restaurant had missed serving eight meals and was trying to figure out how to recoup the costs now that power has returned.

“It was so frustrating because they kept giving us deadlines and telling us when the power would likely be on, but every time we checked, we had no power,” he said.

If customers discover that their power has not returned, NStar’s Pretyman said, the problem might be with an individual breaker or a building breaker, which the customer might be able to re-set in some cases.

She also noted that power has been restored with a jury-rigged combination of generators, temporary “jumper cables,” and the normal electrical system, so further problems could arise. “This is a long road,” she said. “We thank everyone for their patience and want to make sure they know this was a catastrophic failure.”

She said people with problems should call 1-800-592-2000.

As if to underscore Pretyman’s warning, power to the Copley Place offices and shops went out at about noon. Technicians reported the cause was the high air temperatures around the two generators powering the area. The offices and shops, which had been reopened, were closed again, a spokeswoman for the complex said.

NStar officials said that the utility will bear the costs for restoring Back Bay streets to their previous condition, before crews began ripping up pavement and sidewalks to lay temporary cable.

Noting NStar’s difficulty in predicting the return of full power, May did not estimate when the repair work would be finished. “We are not giving any firm dates,” May said.

Brian R. Ballou, Andrew Ryan, and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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