Lt. Governor McKee takes action to improve the emergency response of utility companies

Lt. Gov. McKee

Today, Lt. Governor Daniel J. McKee announced his plans to resubmit the Utility Emergency Response Bill, legislation to improve the emergency preparedness and response of utility companies operating in Rhode Island.

Lt. Governor McKee, who serves as Chair of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Advisory Council, modeled the bill after the law that allowed Massachusetts to fine National Grid $750,000 last week [r20.rs6.net] for poor preparedness and a lack of communication with local communities during the brutal storm in late October 2017.

In the wake of the fines levied in Massachusetts and the Aquidneck Island gas outage, Lt. Governor McKee will reintroduce the Utility Emergency Response Bill this session with Representative Brian P. Kennedy and Senator Roger A. Picard as lead sponsors.

“Rhode Island desperately needs a concrete set of performance standards with corresponding penalties to hold utility companies accountable and protect families and small businesses in the case of an emergency,” said Lt. Governor McKee in a prepared statement. “The Utility Emergency Response Bill is a proven measure that delivers real results for consumers in nearby states. In Massachusetts, this legislation allowed the state to recover over $25 million in fines from utility companies for insufficient performance. It is time to hold utility companies to a higher standard in Rhode Island and ensure our ratepayers receive the benefits.”

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The Bit Players

The legislation includes five main provisions:

Setting performance standards: The Division of Public Utilities & Carriers (DPUC) will establish performance standards for acceptable emergency preparation and response for investor-owned utility companies. Failure to meet the standards will result in penalties of up to $100,000 daily per violation.

Requiring emergency response plans: Utility companies will be required to submit annual emergency response plans to the DPUC. Failure to file will result in a fine of $500 per day. If the utility company fails to follow the emergency response plan, the company may not recover its storm-associated costs by charging the ratepayers.

Crediting fines back to ratepayers: All fines paid by utility companies for violating this legislation will be credited back to Rhode Island ratepayers.

Designating a state liaison: Investor-owned utility companies must designate an employee to be present at the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency when the State Emergency Operations Center is activated.

Designating community liaisons: Investor-owned utility companies must designate an employee to serve as a community liaison for each municipality. Each community liaison will provide cities and towns with at least 3 outage reports per day.

Lt. Governor McKee also plans to reintroduce his Utility Customer Service Bill, legislation that requires public utilities to provide prompt and adequate customer service to small businesses and residential ratepayers including: Timely installations; status updates on project wait times and itemized bills and written estimates for any installation or construction. A violation of this legislation results in a $10,000 fine to the utility company.

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