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Hefty Fine for Mass. Utilities in Storm Response

BOSTON (WGGB/AP) — State energy regulators have fined three Massachusetts utilities nearly $25 million for “systematic and fundamental failures” in their response to two major storms in 2011.

The penalties were announced Tuesday by the Department of Public Utilities after an investigation that took more than a year.

Some customers were without power for a week after Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and a surprise October snowstorm.

National Grid was fined a total of $18.7 million; NStar was fined $4.1 million and Western Massachusetts Electric Co. was fined $2 million.

The fines are a bit less than the nearly $30 million recommended by Attorney General Martha Coakley.

The utilities can appeal.

Under a new state law passed this year, the fines will be returned to consumers in the form of rate relief.

In response to the fines issued Tuesday, National Grid had this statement:

“We understand customers were frustrated by the outages resulting from the devastating storms in 2011 and we share that frustration. We have implemented many changes to our emergency planning and put these into practice during Hurricane Sandy and the November nor’easter. We welcome the opportunity to review our emergency response procedures to continuously improve our service to customers during emergency events and will work closely with the DPU auditors in that review process. We have not yet had an opportunity to fully review and evaluate the Department’s order. We will need some time to evaluate the order fully to consider our options going forward. In the meantime, we will continue to remain focused on providing the level of service our customers deserve and expect.”

Western Mass. Electric says that the company continuously updated customers and local and state officials on the restoration progress. They add that in Tuesday’s ruling, the state noted that WMECo followed their emergency plan, but say they levied fines “for response times to municipal requests for assistance, which were not regulated by the [response] plan.”

In a statement, WMECo says that they intend to appeal the fine, and company president Peter Clarke adds:

“We strongly disagree with the DPU’s finding and are disappointed they have chosen to take this path. We had hoped the department would follow the evidence showing our response properly addressed priorities created by the storm. The men and women of WMECO worked tirelessly to restore power to our customers affected by the worst storm impact in our 100-plus year history. We commend them for their diligence and dedication to getting the job done in extremely difficult conditions.”

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