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Legislature Sends Storm Response Bill to Governor Patrick

by Leah Robins

“I heard clearly from residents, businesses, public safety representatives and local officials who were frustrated by the utility companies’ responses to the August and October storms.  We all understand that storms can knock out power, but this bill holds utility companies accountable for restoring this vital infrastructure which is so critical to our safety, quality of life and economy,” said Dykema.     

Rep. Dykema testified this past fall at the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) hearings in Framingham and Southborough on N-Star and National Grid’s handling of those same events noting that “it was more than an inconvenience in our region, especially to those with private wells who lost access to water, those who depend on medical equipment powered by electricity and those whose businesses were negatively affected.”

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 and requires companies to set up a call center that has sufficient staffing to handle calls during major storms.  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.

A key provision of the bill is that any fines assessed to the utilities by DPU for a failure to comply with these requirements and others already required would be distributed to the rate payers. 

The bill is now on the Governor’s desk for consideration.


State Representative Carolyn Dykema represents the towns of Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway (pct. 1), Southborough (pct. 2 & 3) and Westborough (pct. 2). 

Comments (8)

If you take a look at the number of trees that hang over the wires on Prentice Street, Mill Street, North Mill, and many of our "scenic" roads, it's a miracle we ever have power.

LT | 2012-08-09 08:19:50

We are spoiled in this country. I am not suggesting I would have been happy had my electricity been out for a week or two, but we should be able to handle a few days without all the comforts we are accustomed to. As I was playing cards by candle light and listening to my wind-up emergency radio, I heard people calling in to complain that they had stocked up on food like they had been told to do and now all the meat and ice cream was rotting in the fridge! I can't be the only person who is so thankful that there are people willing to be out all night during storms, sometimes for days on end, to repair power lines while I sit safely at home. What a daunting job they have. I don't think we can expect them to be everywhere at once or to be able to pinpoint exactly when our power will be restored. Regulations can sound great, but how much time will it take for someone to make those estimates instead of working to restore the power faster? And no matter what anyone says, costs always get passed onto the consumer, one way or another, and it is unlikely that any compensation from fines would cover the cost of our fridges full of spoiled meat.

Mary Curran | 2012-08-09 00:56:49

People are obsessed with this issue. Everyone expects power, internet, and phone 24/7. God forbide a storm knocks out power to millions across the northeast and EVERYONE needs to instantaneously have power restored. Everyone complains yet when the companies want to cutback trees as preventative maintanence the tree huggers come out of the woodwork. Wayland is a perfect example. See below: The government should stop wasting time and resources on such petty things and wasting taxpayer money! Buy a generator. I did. Storms happen.

Matt | 2012-08-06 23:09:59

Here's the issue. Investor owned regulated electric utilities in MA can be fined for any number of failures. Those fines are NOT chargeable to ratepayers, they are charged to shareholders. It would make no sense to fine the utility for service failures and charge the customer. The whole point of the fine is to punish the owners and get things fixed. But now, when fines assessed, they are paid into the state's general fund. The bill passed by the legislature would require that the fines essentially become rebates to the customers who were poorly served. That's the big change on fines.

Bill Dowd | 2012-08-05 22:24:31

Snowy, That would be true if this were a real business that could charge whatever it wants. It is not. It is a government-approved quasi-monopoly. The state DPU decides what it can charge, and what profit it is allowed to earn. It cannot pass on this charge unless the state allows it during the rate setting.

Lou | 2012-08-05 20:45:02

It does not matter what the business is, if the politicians hit them with a fine, tax,or licence fee, the cost goes to the consumer. Duh, what other income can they draw from. Massachusetts tax payers get hit from all sides as it is. Mother nature delivers a storm, so help the power company get the job done, don't fine them.

Snowy | 2012-08-05 13:11:13

According to a CBS article I found, neither the charge nor fines for inadequate storm response would be passed on to consumers. I believe it was just a typo. Thank you to Rep. Dykema and the entire legislature for passing this important legislation.

Holliston Reader | 2012-08-04 19:18:20

"would be distributed to the rate payers." Is this statement in the second to last paragraph true or is the word "not" omitted in error?

Pat Duffey | 2012-08-04 07:41:13