Power's Out? You Might Get Paid

By Sarah Birnbaum

April 5, 2012

downed power lines

A tree downs power lines in North Andover, Mass. after the October 2011 storm. (Elise Amendola/AP)

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a measure Thursday that would compensate ratepayers for prolonged power outages.
The measure would require utility companies like NStar, National Grid and Western Massachusetts Electric to issue credits to ratepayers if their power isn’t restored within a certain time frame.
The bill comes after criticism of how the utilities responded to power outages in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene and the late-October snowstorm. The storms left hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the dark across Massachusetts, some for well over a week.
State Sen. Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham) said utility companies need to be held accountable: "The Commonwealth does not have service standards that ratepayers can count upon or upon which utility companies can be expected to meet. Instead we have a convoluted system in which the DPU may issue fines."
She added that the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has only issued one fine, even after countless, repeated outages.
Under the measure, if there were severe weather conditions or a declared state of emergency, utilities would have 5 days to restore power. In other conditions, utilities would have 16 hours to restore power. After that, ratepayers would be entitled to a credit of minimum of $25 total. The DPU would have to sign off on the violation and could raise the amount of the credit if it saw fit.
The measure is included in a larger bill aimed at bringing down the cost of electricity for consumers by allowing competitive bidding on renewable energy contracts.
The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

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