Coakley supports bill requiring compensation for poor storm responses

Bryan Cohen Jan. 13, 2012, 1:25pm


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley issued a letter to the Joint Committees on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on Wednesday expressing support for a bill requiring utility companies to compensate customers for inadequate storm responses.

Coakley wrote the letter in the wake of major storms last year that left thousands of customers in Massachusetts without power for days.

The attorney general is currently working with the state Legislature to enact changes to the law directing all penalties utilities companies pay directly back to impacted customers using rate credits.

"We believe that customers harmed by inadequate emergency storm response should be directly compensated through rate reductions," Coakley said in a statement.

"These updates to the law would greatly assist our office's continuing efforts to protect ratepayers by holding utilities accountable for utility safety and reliability at reasonable costs for ratepayers."

Coakley expressed support in the letter for a bill filed by Senate Chairman Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, that would require utility companies to implement added storm-related plan details and communications. She also requested that the bill include the proposed penalty changes.

"I welcome AG Coakley's interest in improving our storm response process and look forward to reviewing her suggestions with the rest of the committee," Downing said. "Legislation improving storm response continues to be a priority, and I anticipate a robust debate on this important consumer protection initiative with my colleagues this session."

Senate Bill 2087, titled An Act Relative to Emergency Response of Public Utility Companies, would add specific requirements to make sure that there is prompt restoration of service and provide municipalities with management contacts and a communication infrastructure for consumers.

Coakley called these updates "common sense changes" and requested that the bill eliminate the existing cap on penalties and allow the penalties to be returned directly to affected customers through a rate credit.

In July, the attorney general reached an agreement with National Grid, requiring the company to pay $2.2 million in service improvements, penalties and other conditions in connection with an allegedly inadequate response to the Dec. 26, 2010 winter storm.

Coakley's office is also looking into the preparedness and response in connection with the October 2011 snow storm and Tropical Storm Irene.

The Attorney General's Office has become "increasingly concerned" that the response plans and the utility response may be inadequate despite changes in the law to enhance storm response.

Coakley's office is reviewing the issue more thoroughly with the DPU and plans to provide more information throughout the regulatory process.

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