For Immediate Release - August 27, 2014

AG Commends DPU for Adopting Recommendations to Improve the Service Quality of Electric and Gas Companies

AG’s Office Proposes Additional Changes Before Rules are Finalized; New Guidelines Aim to Improve Service Levels and Reduce Power Outages

BOSTON – The Department of Public Utilities’ (DPU) has proposed revised guidelines, changes first recommended by Attorney General Martha Coakley, to better measure the overall service quality of utility companies. The AG’s Office has now offered further comments to help strengthen the standards before they are finalized.

The Report on the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities’ Proposed Revised Service Quality Guidelines, filed Tuesday, commends the DPU for its work to revise the standards that have ultimately adopted much of AG Coakley’s initial recommendations from 2012, while offering additional suggestions and alternative implementations needed to motivate continuous improvement and require more reliable service from the Commonwealth’s electric and gas local distribution companies. 

“After massive outages that left thousands without power in 2011, our office moved first to hold utilities accountable for their faulty storm response,” AG Coakley said. “We recommended these new guidelines to continuously improve service quality and prevent similar outages in the future. These revised service quality standards are a positive step toward ensuring adequate and effective service for customers across the Commonwealth.”

The key recommendations in the AG’s recent report that the DPU should adopt before finalizing guidelines, include:

  • Implementing stronger reliability standards in order to ensure that electric utilities reduce the number and length of power outages in the future;
  • Moving more aggressively to incorporate new metrics used in the industry that can help identify groups of customers who experience frequent or especially long power outages relative to the utility’s other customers;
  • Setting high standards for worker safety that are not skewed by the past performance of small gas utilities that have reported issues with worker safety in the past;
  • Establishing penalties for electric utilities who report scores on the DPU’s traditional customer satisfaction surveys that are lower than historical standards, rather than using new surveys that may be potentially valuable but have no track record; and
  • Continuing to monitor several customer service metrics that the DPU is considering deleting from it service quality guidelines. 

The DPU last established the current service quality guidelines in 2007. Each year, utility companies file a report disclosing their performance under three categories: safety and reliability, service and billing, and customer satisfaction.

In July 2012, the AG’s Office commenced its review of service quality standards after a number of utilities requested significant rate increases and permission to make large capital expenditures without offering a corresponding improvement in service. Although the DPU had been investigating the utilities’ inadequate responses to the October 2011 snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene, ultimately assessing massive penalties for their failures to plan and restore service in a reasonable manner, that investigation would not address service quality on an everyday basis. 

The goal of the AG’s Office’s review was to study alternative ways to measure service quality so that utilities can be required to improve the maintenance of their distribution systems and prevent or reduce the duration of outages.

In December 2012, the DPU opened its own investigation into improving service quality and took AG Coakley’s initial report into consideration, ultimately adopting much of the AG’s key recommendations in its revised guidelines by order issued in July 2014.

The AG’s Office of Ratepayer Advocacy is by statute the utility ratepayer advocate for Massachusetts and is authorized to intervene in or institute administrative and judicial proceedings on behalf of consumers in connection with any matter involving the rates, charges, prices or tariffs of any gas or electric company doing business in the Commonwealth.

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