Friday, August 3, 2012

Storm response bill sent for governor's signature

BOSTON July 31, 2012 – The legislature today passed a bill to improve emergency response services of Massachusetts public utility companies. Widespread power outages across the state last year during Tropical Storm Irene in August and an October snowstorm exposed areas of concern and prompted the legislative action.

“We want to make sure residents and customers don’t run into the same problems with service providers,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “We all understand that storms will knock out power, but there needs to be reasonable response times and proper notifications in every community. This legislation will improve communications and hold utility companies accountable for restoring power.”

“Natural disasters such as Tropical Storm Irene are unpredictable, but this legislation creates a response system in Massachusetts that will ensure readiness when the unexpected occurs,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This bill works to improve communication and oversight between municipalities and utility providers and will help keep victims safe in the event of a disaster.” 

“Today we build on steps taken in 2009 to demand prompt restoration of power following extreme storms,” said Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield), lead sponsor of the bill.  “Utilities must do a better job of communicating their restoration progress to customers and public officials. If they fail their responsibilities to their customers before, during or after a storm, those customers should be the recipients of any fines assessed by the Department of Utilities as we ensure through this bill.”   

“While living in New England, we all know storms are inevitable, however Massachusetts ratepayers have every right to expect prompt return of service,” said House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy John D. Keenan (D-Salem).

“I was pleased to see the customer notification requirements included in the bill that I offered to the committee in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. Having accurate information about how long an outage will last, even if it’s bad news, is a huge improvement over having no information at all,” commented Representative Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich).

The bill requires public utility companies to provide three-times-daily estimates to customers about when electricity will be restored following a 24-hour damage assessment period. It also requires companies during major storms to set up a call center which must be located in Massachusetts within 50 miles of a utility’s service territory and have sufficient staffing to handle calls.

Utilities must also report storm outages to the state and designate a community liaison in each community when implementing an emergency response plan. To enhance that effort, the legislation requires utilities to designate staff at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to help coordinate statewide response.

Furthermore, utilities will pay an assessment charge to help the Department of Public Utilities pay for storm investigations. The cost of this assessment cannot be passed onto customers, nor can any costs of penalties assessed on utilities for violating emergency preparation and response requirements.

The final bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

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