How will rolling blackouts affect you?

With the weather getting colder and colder, the Marblehead Light Department is preparing for the possibility of rolling blackouts.

In the low-probability event that New England declares an emergency due to fuel supply shortages, the Light Department will reduce the amount of power it delivers to customers.

“Our plan to do that is to basically do these rolling blackouts,” said Joseph Kowalik, General Manager for Marblehead Municipal Light Department.

With 22 circuits in town — each powering an average of 500 customers — the Light Department plans to work on a rotating schedule, turning off 2 to 3 circuits at a time, to reduce the amount of power being used.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 homes in Marblehead will be without electricity for a few hours. Then, after two to three hours, the Light Department will turn power back on for those homes and turn off power for a different grouping of homes.

“We do that until the scarcity condition is cleared in full,” said Kowalik.

Because rolling blackouts have never taken place in New England, the Light Department wants to prepare its customers to know exactly what will happen in the low probability that Marblehead has to go into rolling-blackout mode.

“We try to pick a time frame that’s short enough —the pipes aren’t going to freeze, the food in your refrigerator is not going to spoil, you’re not going to freeze,” said Kowalik.

“Long enough so that we can safely do it on a rotating basis,” he added.

When asked if there are any safety concerns, Kowalik said, “There always is.”

The Light Department worries about their employees executing rolling blackouts safely and that some residents rely on electricity for medical devices at home.

“Those are the folks we are working on —people who are the most vulnerable. Let them know this is a low probability, but it could happen, and you might want to prepare for it,” said Kowalik.

For those dependent on electricity for the use of medical equipment, the Light Department suggests having a means of backup power.

“We are looking at perhaps testing some mobile batteries in line for a couple of these customers, but it’s not something we can guarantee in every situation to backup power,” said Kowalik.