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AG Seeks to Fine Nstar for Failed Irene, 'Snotober' Responses

Some customers were without power for a week or more following these weather events in 2011. Does a potential $9.7 million fine for Nstar ease the pain?

Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office is seeking a $9.7 million fine after an investigation revealed Nstar "failed to adequately prepare, respond, and communicate during Tropical Storm Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm."

The recommended fine breaks down to slightly more than $4 million for Nstar’s response to the October 2011 snowstorm and $5.7 million for Tropical Storm Irene, according to a press release.

The AGO filed a brief Aug. 7, with the state's Department of Public Utilities, which has the authority to levy the fine.

What do you think? Is the $9.7 million fine deserved? Does it ease the pain of last year's lengthy power outages during Irene and the October snowstorm? Post your thoughts in the comments.

According to the AGO investigation, Nstar fell short of its state-required Emergency Response Plan obligations. In particular, Nstar failed

  • "to identify the projected level of severity of both storms;
  • "to communicate effectively with customers and municipalities throughout the two major storms
  • "to respond to public safety calls about downed wires."

“Nstar’s preparation for these storms was woefully inadequate and much of the power loss suffered by hundreds of thousands of customers could have been avoided,” Coakley said in the press release. "The company’s slow response to downed wires created a dangerous public safety situation for towns across the Commonwealth. These fines are intended to hold Nstar accountable for these failings and to send a message that customers deserve better in future storms.”

If Nstar is required to pay the penalties, the fees cannot be passed along to customers, but must be covered by shareholders.

In a statement, Nstar disagreed with Coakley's assessment, saying that "Nstar Electric customers fared better than others in Massachusetts and throughout New England."

“We disagree with the Attorney General’s recommendation given the physical challenges of rebuilding and restoring the electric system following a natural disaster,” said Werner Schweiger, president of NSTAR Electric, in a statement. “The Attorney General is alleging performance violations based on standards that do not exist."

Tom August 12, 2012 at 09:01 PM
This is just a useless waste of time. When you have trees falling down left and right you have power outages. Plain and simple. Utilities only have the staffing to deal with the routine types of outages that occur. Incidents like Irene and the October storm are always going to require staffing from outside the utility's own staff and it takes time to repair the amount of damage a storm like this causes. When your power is out, you aren't using electricity, thus you aren't paying for the time period power is out. Fines are not necessary. Regardless of these "investigations" if another Hurricane or October snowstorm occurs this year, we will have similarly long power outages again.

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