Blackout should give new push for state electric inspections

AFTER AN explosion at a transformer in Cambridge killed an NStar worker in 2006, lawmakers introduced a proposal to require annual inspections of electrical equipment. But “Kevin’s Law’’ — named for Kevin Fidalgo of Roxbury, the 28-year-old former Boston Latin football star killed in the blast — has languished on Beacon Hill ever since.

The fire at an NStar facility on Scotia Street in Back Bay earlier this month is a fresh reminder of how destructive problems at electric facilities can be. Thankfully, nobody was killed this time. Thousands of customers lost electricity, though, and the blackout cost restaurants and retailers millions of dollars in lost business.

The blackout underscores why there should be more frequent oversight of electrical infrastructure, along the lines of the scrutiny that gas utilities in the Commonwealth already receive. The inspection law proposed after the 2006 accident covered only “vaults,’’ the underground electrical equipment found in many large, privately owned buildings. (Fidalgo was killed while working in the basement of an MIT-owned building.) It should be expanded to include facilities like NStar’s substation, which had not been inspected by either state or city authorities.


The cause of the Back Bay fire is still under investigation, and NStar says it already inspects its facilities. Whether or not more inspections would have prevented or limited the damage of the two-day blackout isn’t known, and it may never be known. But the real test isn’t whether inspections would have stopped the last disaster. It’s whether they will stop the next one. Boston has witnessed how disruptive even a non-fatal electrical explosion can be, and the state should take steps to prevent such dangerous mishaps in the future.