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Citing poor storm response, state regulators hit Massachusetts utilities with nearly $25 million in penalties

From the December 14, 2012 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published December 14, 2012

By Jeannine Anderson

State utility regulators in Massachusetts have imposed $24.8 million in penalties on three private power companies for the utilities' response to two weather events last year: Tropical Storm Irene and an October snowstorm. Both storms caused widespread power outages.

All three utilities failed in their public safety obligation when it came to responding to local public safety officials about downed wires, said the state Department of Public Utilities.

National Grid faces the steepest penalty, at $18.725 million; NSTAR has been ordered to pay $4.075 million; and Western Massachusetts Electric Co. has been directed to pay $2 million. The money will be returned to the utilities’ customers, the DPU said. NSTAR and WMECO both said they would appeal the ruling.

The regulators said they found "systematic failures" in National Grid’s preparation for, and response to, both storms. For example, the utility "left local public safety officials standing by downed wires for as long as several days, had a seriously inadequate response for priority facilities like nursing homes and sewage treatment plants, and secured too few crews, too late," the DPU said.

For NSTAR, which lost nearly half of its customers during Irene, the DPU found that "in many important respects, the company performed reasonably under the circumstances," but often took "far too long" to respond to calls from public safety officials about downed wires.

The DPU also penalized WMECo for its response to local safety officials who contacted the company about downed electric wires.

"These will not be the last severe storms we see and the public cannot expect that the utilities can prevent outages in events of this magnitude," said DPU Chair Ann Berwick. "On the other hand, "we will not tolerate inadequate responses to local public safety officials."


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