WOONSOCKET — At the urging of Lt. Gov. Daniel J. McKee, state Sen. Roger A. Picard (D-Dist. 20, Woonsocket, Cumberland) and state Rep. Brian P. Kennedy (D-Hopkinton, Westerly) will resubmit the Utility Emergency Response Bill – legislation to improve the emergency preparedness and response of utility companies operating in Rhode Island.
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 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, McKee will reintroduce the Utility Emergency Response Bill this session with Kennedy and 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 McKee. “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.”
The legislation includes five main provisions:
• Setting performance standards: The Division of Public Utilities & Carriers (DPUC) would establish benchmarks 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.
• Requirement for emergency response plans. Utility companies will be required to file 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 the state’s 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 three outage reports per day.
McKee also plans to reintroduce his Utility Customer Service Bill – a measure that would require public utilities to provide prompt and adequate customer service to small businesses and residential ratepayers including timely installations, status updates on project wait times, 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.