Statement on Department of Public Utilities Decision not to levy a penalty against Unitil
BOSTON - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley today issued the following statement regarding the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) decision not to levy a penalty against Unitil in connection with the utility's restoration efforts in the aftermath of an ice storm on December 11-12 2008. The storm caused outages for 100 percent of Unitil's customers with approximately one in five of its customers without electricity for a week and over 1,000 customers without electricity for twelve days or more. In June, Attorney General Coakley's office filed a brief with the DPU seeking a penalty of $4.6 million against Unitil for multiple failures during the Company's response to the 2008 Ice Storm including but not limited to failing to maintain and execute an adequate emergency response plan, failing to adequately control tree vegetation, failing to contact its critical care customers and failing to communicate with both customers and government officials.
"In the aftermath of the December 2008 Ice Storm, we requested that regulators conduct a thorough investigation and, based upon the result of this review, put in safeguards to ensure this never happens again and hold the company accountable for its actions through sanctions. Today, the department issued a decision that made extensive and damning findings against the company and adopted multiple recommendations to prevent this from reoccurring, but did not take the additional step of imposing fines in this proceeding. This does little to hold Unitil accountable for its dismal response to the December 2008 Ice Storm and shoddy treatment of its customers in the following weeks. While the department's factual findings are consistent with the evidence presented to the department by the Attorney General's Office, we disagree with the department's constrictive interpretation of its own authority. The decision not to hold the company responsible through fines provides utility companies with regulatory immunity for failing to follow department orders and mandates in place to protect customers.
The Attorney General's Office serves as the utility ratepayer advocate for all Massachusetts consumers. Over the past year, through heavily attended public hearings in Fitchburg and Lunenburg, extensive discovery, submission of expert reports and five days of evidentiary hearings, Attorney General Coakley's Energy and Telecommunications Division has scrutinized Unitil's preparation and response to the storm.