On December 11, 2012, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (“MDPU”) assessed fines totaling $24.8 million to three utilities for their responses after Tropical Storm Irene and an October 2011 snowstorm.  In assessing the fines, the MDPU determined that National Grid USA Service Company, Inc. (“National Grid”), NSTAR Electric Co. (“NSTAR”), and the Western Massachusetts Electric Co. (“WMECo”) were all deficient in their post-storm response operations, including their response to downed wires.  The MDPU announced that all of the money collected from the penalties will be returned to the utilities’ respective customers.

The MDPU assessed National Grid with the largest fine – $18.725 million – for what the MDPU termed “systematic failures in preparation and response to T.S. Irene and the October Snowstorm.”  The MDPU noted that even after National Grid received a warning from the MDPU for similar shortcomings after a 2010 snowstorm, National Grid continued to ineffectively coordinate with storm-affected towns and displayed inadequate response times to both priority facilities and downed power lines.  The MDPU ordered National Grid to undergo an independent audit of its response capacity in addition to the fine.

The MDPU fined NSTAR and WMECo $4.075 and $2 million, respectively.  While NSTAR’s fine was based on its response to both Tropical Storm Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm, the MDPU’s investigation of WMECo was limited to WEMCo’s actions for the October 2011 snowstorm.  The MDPU fined NSTAR and WEMCo for their deficient communication with customers, and for their inadequate response to downed power lines.  However, the MDPU did praise both companies for certain aspects of their pre- and post-storm response operations.

Each company has 30 days from the date of the applicable order to submit a payment plan for their respective fines.  As of today’s publication, NSTAR and WMECo have stated that they intend to appeal their proposed fines, while National Grid has stated that it is still reviewing the MDPU’s order.

Copies of the orders are available here, here, and here.