BOSTON – The Senate on Thursday passed a bill to address emergency service response of public utility companies in Massachusetts as a result of the widespread power outages in communities across the state during Tropical Storm Irene in August and the snowstorm in October, State Senator Jamie Eldridge announced.
“I heard from many residents who were frustrated by the utility companies’ responses to the August and October storms. In some cases residents went without power for over a week, often unable to get any substantive information from their utility company about when power would be restored. This was an unacceptable situation, and I’m in strong support of this legislation to ensure our constituents receive better service during future emergencies,” said Senator Eldridge.
Senator Eldridge held four hearings in the Middlesex & Worcester district – in Marlborough, Shirley, Ayer and Maynard – at the end of last year to gather input from constituents about their experiences during the October storm and the utility companies’ response.
The bill requires public utility companies to provide twice-daily estimates to customers on when electricity will be restored following a 24-hour damage assessment period, and to set up a call center during a major storm. The call center must be located in Massachusetts and must have sufficient staffing to handle increases in calls.
Utilities must also report storm outages to the state and designate a community liaison in each community when implementing an emergency response plan. The bill also requires utilities to designate staff at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to help coordinate statewide response.
Additionally, 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 on to customers. The bill also ensures that any penalties assessed on utilities for violation of emergency preparation and response will be credited to customers.
Finally, to further ensure that public utility companies in Massachusetts improve their response to cities and towns during a storm, the bill extends the possibility of receivership to all utilities in the case of gross negligence. Currently, only Unitil is subject to receivership.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.