Coakley reviewing utilities' quality standards

By Bryan Cohen | Jul 12, 2012


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced on Wednesday that she has begun a review of standards used to measure utility companies' overall service quality to determine if they are sufficient.

Utility companies currently evaluate utilities using a set of service quality standards established each year by the Department of Public Utilities. The standards are meant to ensure that utilities maintain an acceptable level of storm preparedness, customer responsiveness and infrastructure. Utilities can receive incentive payments for reaching the DPU standards.

Utilities can improve overall scores by focusing on areas unrelated to system reliability, such as speeding up the resolution of consumer complaints or reducing the number of rings before customer calls are answered. Performance improvements in the unrelated areas could hide weaknesses in the actual maintenance of the system.

"The frequency and extent of the recent power outages have been unacceptable," Coakley said. "While utilities routinely request and receive rate increases to improve their infrastructure and overall service quality, it's time to make sure ratepayers are getting the benefits they're paying for."

The review by Coakley's office will determine if the service quality data currently reported by utility providers actually gives adequate information to regulators in the state. The review will also look into retooling current metrics used to grade utilities for performance.

Upon completing the review, Coakley's office will provide the DPU with official recommendations.

Attorneys from Coakley's Ratepayer Advocacy Office have used the last three weeks to represent ratepayers at hearing to gather information about the utility companies' responses to recent outages. Outages during the October snowstorm and Hurricane Irene left thousands of customers without electricity. The hearings are a part of the DPU's look into the response to the storms by utility companies such as National Grid and NStar.

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