Jul 06, 2002 (The Boston Globe - Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News via COMTEX) -- Despite scattered outages this week, a nine-month blitz to improve the power system prevented rampant power failures such as those that plagued the region last summer, an NStar spokesman said yesterday. A tally of customers who lost power in the summer's first wave of unrelenting heat was not available, but NStar Electric spokesman Mike Durand said most outages were short-lived or concentrated in small areas.

Two of the largest power failures of the week hit during Wednesday's 95-degree temperatures, when 9,000 Dorchester residents and 1,700 East Bostonians lost electricity. In both cases, Durand said, power was restored to most customers within an hour.

"Were there power outages? Yes. Were we perfect? No, we were not," he said. "But by and large, the system held up well."

By all accounts, the system performed far better than last summer, when the Bay State recorded more than 600,000 customer-hours of blackouts in six weeks in July and August. That earned NStar an unprecedented $3.2 million in fines. But at the end of May, the utility completed $85 million worth of work, including installing 1.1 million feet of new and higher-capacity cable, surveying 1,100 miles of power lines for problems, and trimming tree limbs along 1,000 miles of cable to prevent downed lines.

The company plans another $65 million outlay for work later this year. "We continue to work to make further improvements in the system," Durand said. "As time goes on, those will also be evident in the reliability of the electric system."

Paul B. Vasington, chairman of the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, said that NStar completed all the work the company had promised to finish by the end of May, and that the system certainly fared better than last summer. But until the department reviews each case to determine whether failures could have been prevented, it is premature to make a general pronouncement about how the system performed, he said.

"You have to expect some outages when you have a heat wave," Vasington said.

"But it's the job of regulators to sort through and figure out what are run-of-the-mill heat-related failures and what should have been foreseen and prevented."

By Naomi Aoki
To see more of The Boston Globe, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.boston.com/globe (c) 2002, The Boston Globe. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.