EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 11, 2012

Utilities hit with $25M in penalties

BOSTON — Customers of National Grid, NStar and Western Mass. Electric are in line to receive nearly $25 million in reimbursements for poor performance during two storms in 2011.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan yesterday joined Department of Public Utilities Chairwoman Ann Berwick and DPU Commissioners to announce the findings of DPU’s investigation into the electric utilities’ responses to Tropical Storm Irene and the Halloween snowstorm of 2011.

National Grid, which serves most of the Merrimack Valley, faces the steepest penalty, at $18.725 million; NSTAR has been ordered to pay $4.075 million; and Western Massachusetts Electric Companyto pay $2 million. The DPU concluded that all of the utilities failed in their public safety obligation when it came to responding to local public safety officials regarding downed wires.

“As the number of serious weather events has risen dramatically in Massachusetts, it’s crucial for ratepayers to have electric service that is both safe and reliable,” Sullivan said. “I am grateful to the Department of Public Utilities for its thorough investigation into these storm responses and we are hopeful that its findings, penalties, and directives will ensure improved preparedness and services during weather events in the future.”

National Grid, in an emailed statement, said: “We understand customers were frustrated by the outages resulting from the devastating storms in 2011 and we share that frustration. We have implemented many changes to our emergency planning and put these into practice during Hurricane Sandy and the November nor’easter. We welcome the opportunity to review our emergency response procedures to continuously improve our service to customers during emergency events and will work closely with the DPU auditors in that review process.”

The companies have 30 days to respond to the state order. NStar and Western Mass Electric are said to be considering an appeal of the order. Under a state law passed this year, the fines will be returned to consumers in the form of rate relief if the DPU decision is upheld.

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