Coakley: Penalize power provider $4.6M

John O'Brien Jun. 5, 2009, 3:58pm


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley wants a state regulator agency to impose a $4.6 million penalty on electricity and gas provider Unitil Corp.

Coakley filed a brief with the Department of Public Utilities Friday requesting the penalty, alleging inferior service during a December ice storm that caused outages for every Unitil customer.

Coakley said one in five customers went without electricity for a week and more than 1,000 had to make due without it for 12 days or more.

"Unitil's lack of preparation for the storm and ineptitude during the restoration efforts caused great hardship, suffering and financial loss for the residents and businesses of Fitchburg, Townsend, Lunenburg and Ashby," Coakley said.

"Our office's most disturbing finding was that Unitil took no efforts during the outage to contact the 65 critical care customers who it knew depended on electricity for survival."

Only through significant penalties will Unitil learn its lesson, Coakley said.

"A fine of this magnitude would be severely disproportionate to Unitil's role in the events of the December ice storm. The Attorney General's office, through the disproportionate size of the fine requested and by choosing to forgo any request for punitive action on other Massachusetts utilities, has made it clear that this is an arbitrary proposal based more on public anger than the facts of the case," Unitil said in a statement.

Coakley said the storm showed how unprepared the company was.

"For Unitil, the ice storm exposed a company that did little to prepare for a severe storm resulting in a failed response to the ice storm and leading to significant hardship among Unitil's customers," Coakley's brief says.

"The... ice storm uncovered several planning and preventative deficiencies within the company."

Coakley also wants Unitil to implement the 28 recommendations made as part of its self-assessment. She said the company's allowed earnings should be adjusted downward.

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