Mass. fines utilities $24.8M for sloppy storm response

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The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities on Tuesday announced a total of $24.8 million in fines for inadequate response to 2011 storms.

The fines were imposed after investigating the way state utilities handled Tropical Storm Irene, as well as a large snowstorm that struck the region in October 2011. National Grid was fined $18.7 million, NSTAR $4 million and Western Massachusetts Energy Company $2 million. The DPU reported finding "systematic failures" in National Grid's preparation and response to the storms.

The fines are a reminder that, while regulators understand that storms and subsequent outages are largely unavoidable, utilities must still adequately plan for and mitigate damage in order to stay as reliable as possible.

"These will not be the last severe storms we see, and the public cannot expect that the utilities can prevent outages in events of this magnitude," said DPU Chair Ann Berwick in a release. "On the other hand, public safety will remain our absolutely highest priority, and we will not tolerate inadequate responses to local public safety."

NSTAR plans to appeal the decision, and the other utilities have the opportunity to do the same.

"We strongly disagree with the department and are disappointed that they have dismissed the tireless effort put forth by our employees to respond to customers after these historic storms," said Werner Schweiger, President of NSTAR Electric, in a statement responding to the DPU ruling.

In addition to the fines, the DPU announced four other initiatives targeting storm reliability, including: an investigation into grid modernization, a review of utility service quality standards, new emergency response regulations, and an examination of existing emergency response plans.

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