Westfield Newsroom

State launches WMECO investigation

SOUTHWICK – Ten days after the devastating pre-Halloween snowstorm there are very few residents left without power.
Just a few days ago, it seemed like power would never be restored as Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO) slowly brought light and heat back to residents.
With 96 percent of Southwick left in the dark after the storm, WMECO did not have a presence in town until a few days after the record-breaking Nor’easter. Town Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart said yesterday that there are some individual homes still without power because of problems that fall under homeowner responsibility.
“There are still WMECO personnel in town dealing with those issues,” said Stinehart.
The Massachusetts Department of Utilities (DPU) has launched an investigation into the storm response from investor utilities, such as WMECO, at the request of Secretary of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard K. Sullivan, Jr.  Sullivan said three commissioners of the Department of Public Utilities will conduct the investigation.
“They will not be investigating municipal utilities,” Sullivan said.
This review, which will be launched following adoption of a formal order by the DPU, comes on the heels of the DPU’s ongoing inquiry into National Grid and NSTAR Electric Company’s handling of power outages related to Tropical Storm Irene.
In addition, as a matter of course, the DPU requires all four of the utilities (National Grid, NSTAR, Western Massachusetts Electric Company and Unitil) to submit 30-day post-storm reports. Those reports, which have already been filed by the companies in relation to Tropical Storm Irene, require the utilities to include a section on lessons learned and, specifically, suggest recommendations that will help them improve performance for the upcoming winter storm season.
In response to customer and municipal concerns, the DPU will examine how the state’s investor-owned electric distribution companies responded to the October 29, 2011 snowstorm, focusing on the companies’ efforts to prepare before the storm and restore electric power, as well as their communications with affected communities. The DPU will also review whether the companies complied with DPU regulations and fully implemented their Emergency Response Plans, which were last filed in May 2011.
“I’m pleased the DPU is acting quickly to get an investigation underway,” Secretary Sullivan said. “Throughout the week, I and members of my energy team have met with public officials in hard-hit cities and towns around Massachusetts. I will continue to monitor the ongoing restoration efforts and look forward to hearing more from communities and the public through this process.”
The DPU’s inquiry will focus on compliance with DPU’s performance standards for emergency preparedness and restoration of service, including: (1) preparation for and management of the restoration efforts; (2) allocation of company resources in the affected communities; (3) communications with state, local municipal and public safety officials, and with the department; (4) dissemination of timely information to the public; and (5) identification of company practices requiring improvement, if any.
Based on its findings, the DPU’s actions following the investigation could include levying financial penalties and/or requiring the companies to change their storm policy procedures going forward.
According to Sullivan, local hearings will be scheduled soon and anyone wishing to lodge a complaint can do so online via www.mass.gov/dpu.
Stinehart did not comment on the investigation but did say the town’s dealings with WMECO line workers were favorable.
“They were great to work with,” he said. “Our interface was with the line crews and the tree crews and they only go where they are sent.”
Stinehart said he and the Southwick Select Board were grateful for help from the Westfield community.
“We want to thank the mayor of Westfield and president of Westfield State University and the health director for their assistance,” said Stinehart.
Now that power has been restored to Southwick, Stinehart said cleaning up is now the focus.
“The town has six crews working on brush removal from the edge of the road,” he said. “We started this morning and want to remind everyone to put the brush on the edge of the road, not in the road.”
The town transfer station is also open for residents to bring storm related debris.
“Our intent is to get everything off the sides of the streets in the next several weeks, before winter sets in,” Stinehart said.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top