Coakley calls for penalty against utility

By Nick Rees | Jul 16, 2012


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has called on the state's department of public utilities to assess a $4 million penalty against a utility that allegedly failed to take necessary actions during the October snow storm.

The Western Massachusetts Electric Company, Coakley alleges, failed to meet three separate standards of its emergency response plan, including effective communication with customers and municipalities during the storm, contact with medical needs customers before, during and after the storm, and providing timely damage assessments.

"The October 2011 snow storm left thousands of Western Massachusetts customers without power for as many as 12 days," Coakley said.

"During outages, customers - especially those with medical needs - and local officials need timely and accurate communications about power restoration efforts. WMECo's communications were woefully inadequate and we have recommended a significant penalty for those failures."

According to Coakley's brief, WMECo did not effectively communicate with residents and local officials during the event, with the city of Springfield's Emergency Operations center not receiving a detailed status of outages and restoration efforts until the sixth day of the storm. The center became aware of additional updates through social media after the storm.

WMECo also allegedly failed to communicate estimated times of restoration to customers and only acknowledged that power could be out for up to a week in one press release.

Medical needs customers were allegedly only contacted by automated calls prior to the storm but were never attempted to be contacted directly during or after the storm, which is required by WMECo's emergency response plan.

The inability of WMECo to calculate an accurate estimate time of restoration because of a lack of assessors also added to the confusion, Coakley claims. Because of the lack of assessors, restoration times were adjusted daily on a town-by-town basis, Coakley says.

Under state law, a $250,000 fine may be assessed for each day a violation exists.

Coakley also plans to make recommendations to the DPU of possible fines against National Grid and NSTAR for their responses to both the October storm and Tropical Storm Irene.

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