Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Senator Knapik Requests Utility Oversight Hearings in Wake of Latest New England Storm

Senator Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield) announced today that he has sent a letter to Senator Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, requesting one or more oversight hearing be held regarding the problems and failures of National Grid and Western Mass Electric Company following last week’s unprecedented snow storm. Senator Knapik was joined by Senator Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham) and Senator James Welch (D-West Springfield) in submitting the request.

“I have requested the committee hold hearings in the areas most affected by the storm so residents and local officials have a forum to voice their frustrations and offer personal accounts of the utilities responses,” Senator Knapik said. “I am hopeful the result will be a better understanding of what went wrong and how we can ensure it does not happen in the future.”

On Saturday, October 29th, 2011, much of New England was hit by a powerful storm bringing heavy snow and strong winds. Given the timing of the storm, countless trees with their leaves still intact were toppled by the weight of the snow. As a result, power outages overwhelmed hundreds of thousands of households and businesses throughout Massachusetts.

The aftermath of the storm has exposed profound problems in the utility companies' abilities to organize and effectively respond to damages as well as communicate with customers and municipalities. Local officials and residents have cited a lack of personnel in their communities and a lack of information in the wake of the storm, despite many early warnings.

The utilities released inaccurate estimates in regards to power restoration, providing further frustrations for ratepayers. This major response problem left municipalities unable to work with the utilities and formulate efficient response plans. As a result, trees remained down, blocking major roadways days after the storm, and live wires lingered in residents’ yards presenting hazards throughout much of last week. Even today, over a week after the storm, many remain without power with no definite end in sight.

“The utilities must do a better job providing accurate information to municipalities and customers to ensure everyone is on the same page” Senator Knapik said. “We live in an area prone to unpredictable weather. It is crucial that these utilities are prepared for every event and are able to respond as quickly as possible.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has called for the Department of Public Utilities to conduct an investigation into the utilities handling of the storm. DPU has already begun a series of public hearings about the utilities' response to Hurricane Irene, which cause thousands of prolonged power outages in August, and has acknowledge it will open an investigation and schedule more hearings about the utilities' response to this storm.

Be sure to check out Senator Knapik's interview with WWLP-TV Channel 22 in Springfield by playing the video link posted below.

Lawmakers want utilities investigated: wwlp.com