“The bill attempts to address many of the problems that occurred last year during the October Nor’easter. Many of our constituents suffered with no power, no phone, and no bathroom facilities and in many cases no running water for over a week,” said Sen. Boucher.
The bill not only deals with the October snow storm but also with the remnants of Hurricane Irene in August.
The legislation gives the state the ability to react more swiftly in the case of future outages. Under the bill, which passed 34-0 in the senate, state regulators will be required to:
- establish new performance standards for electric, gas and telecommunications utilities regarding emergency preparation and service restoration
- If there's an emergency with more than 10 percent of any utility's customers without service for more than 48 consecutive hours the utility can suffer penalties. (Those penalties cannot exceed a total of 2.5 percent of the company's annual distribution revenue.)
- Regulators must consider standards for minimum staffing and equipment levels for each utility based on the number of customers; targets for recovery and restoration of service; a communication plan between each utility and its customers; and assessments of each utility's ability to rely on mutual aid from other utilities in the region to restore the services.
- Other standards relate to utilities' plans for tree-trimming, cutting and removal to reduce outages caused by falling trees and limbs; how a utility's call center is operated; notifications by each utility to state and local officials to coordinate response efforts; and safety standards for a utility's employees, mutual aid crews and private contractors.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has until Nov. 1 to submit a report identifying the new standards.
"As long as those standards are real and fair and responsible, we should hold the utilities accountable if they don't meet them," said Sen. Toni Boucher.
The bill awaits the Governor’s signature.