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N.H. utilities get mixed grades in storm report card

CONCORD, N.H. — The state commission that regulates utilities has released a report card on four power companies’ responses to a freak 2011 snowstorm, giving Public Service of New Hampshire low marks but calling Unitil Energy Systems a ‘‘model.’’

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission released the 60-page report this week on utilities’ preparation and restoration efforts with the storm, which put more than 300,000 homes and businesses in the dark.

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The commission said PSNH did not line up enough crews in advance of the storm, had inadequate weather forecasting methods, and failed to communicate in a timely fashion with municipal officials.

The report said PSNH management is reluctant to put outside utility crews in place due to costs and typically relies on its parent company — Northeast Utilities of Connecticut — to obtain crews, ‘‘thereby hampering its own ability to pre-stage resources in a timely manner.’’

The commission also found PSNH’s self-assessment of its response to the storm lacked a detailed analysis of its power restoration efforts and a critique of management decisions.

PSNH spokesman Martin Murray says his company is still digesting the report, adding, ‘‘We learn from every storm.’’

The company has already implemented some of the recommendations, Murray said. It has hired more community liaison officers to streamline communication with municipalities.

He also stressed that outside crews were obtained in advance of Superstorm Sandy hitting New Hampshire this year.

‘‘We tried to get hundreds more crews, but it was not possible due to the incredibly broad nature of the storm,’’ Murray said Wednesday.

The 2011 snowstorm began the night of Oct. 29 and continued for about 36 hours. The deepest snowfall accumulation — 34 inches — was recorded in Jaffrey.

The report says it was clear by early Friday, the day before the storm, that at least 4 inches of heavy wet snow would blanket the state and trees still lush with foliage, increasing the surface area for snow to accumulate, snap branches, and take out power lines.

At the peak of power failures, PSNH had 237,000 customers without power, Unitil had 51,262, New Hampshire Electrical Cooperative had 18,687, and Granite State Electric Co. had 15,679.

The commission called Unitil’s storm management preparation ‘‘a model for other New Hampshire companies.’’ It tripled its workforce before the storm started and restored power to 25 percent of its customers within 38 hours, the report said.

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