AG Seeks $4 Million in Penalties for Inadequate Storm Response by Western Massachusetts Electric Company
AG’s Office Files Brief with Department of Public Utilities Detailing Violations Including Lack of Communication with Medical Needs Customers
BOSTON – After the Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECo) failed to adequately communicate with residents and municipal officials or secure proper staffing levels during the October 2011 snow storm that caused massive power outages for thousands of Massachusetts residents, Attorney General Martha Coakley has recommended to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) that the company be penalized $4 million.
According to the AG’s brief filed with the DPU on Tuesday, WMECo officials failed to meet three separate standards of the company’s emergency response plan (ERP) including:
- Effectively communicating with customers and municipalities throughout the storm;
- Making direct contact with medical needs customers before, during and after the event; and
- Providing timely damage assessments.
“The October 2011 snow storm left thousands of Western Massachusetts customers without power for as many as 12 days,” AG 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.”
AG Coakley will also make recommendations to the DPU regarding possible fines to be levied against National Grid and NSTAR for their responses to the October snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene. The deadline for the filing of the reply brief in the National Grid case is July 25, while the NSTAR deadline is August 3.
The AG’s brief alleges that WMECo failed to effectively communicate with residents and local officials during the event. According to the brief, the City of Springfield’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) never received a detailed status of outages and restoration efforts until the sixth day of the storm and only became aware that additional updates were available through social media after the storm was over.
Additionally, the brief alleges that WMECo failed to communicate estimated times of restoration to customers and that only one press release acknowledged that power could be out for up to a week. The brief also alleges that the Company contacted medical needs customers with automated calls before the storm but never attempted direct contact during or after the event as required by its emergency response plan.
Adding to the confusion already caused by poor communication was WMECo’s inability to calculate an accurate estimated time of restoration (ETR) due to an alleged lack of assessors who determine the amount of damage 48 hours after a storm. According to the brief, WMECo had trouble predicting restoration times on a town-by-town basis because of a limited number of assessors and therefore adjusted ETRs daily.
State law allows a $250,000 fine for each day a violation exists.
Yesterday, AG Coakley announced her office has begun a review of standards used to measure the overall service quality of utility companies to determine if they are adequate or effective.
Chief Jesse Reyes and Assistant Attorneys General Sandra Merrick, Charlynn Hull and Paul Stakutis of the AG’s Energy and Telecommunications Division are handling the recommendations to the DPU.