Whip Kazarian Introduces Bill to Hold Utility Companies Accountable for Outages and Utility Restoration After Emergencies
STATE HOUSE – House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence) has introduced legislation (2021-H 5956) which would hold utility companies accountable for outages and utility restoration during storms and emergencies.
“As I have referenced before, East Providence, the community I represent, has had five power outages over the last year while communities over the border like Seekonk are able to keep the lights on for their ratepayers. Something clearly is not working and the ratepayers of Rhode Island deserve far better service when one considers the high amounts of money that we all pay for our utilities,” said Whip Kazarian.
The legislation, modeled after a bill enacted in Massachusetts in 2009, would grant the chair of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) emergency powers during governor declared emergencies for the restoration of all utility services.
Under these emergency powers, the chair may issue operational and management directives and order expenditures or other measures by any investor-owned utility that the chair considers necessary to respond to the state of emergency, including, but not limited to, expenditures for the deployment of personnel, equipment and other assets or property of an alternative utility to assume responsibility for the restoration of service if, in the judgment of the chair, the affected utility is incapable of restoring service.
The bill will also require the DPUC to adopt rules and regulations to establish standards for emergency preparation and restoration of utility service and to establish penalties for violation of these standards. Any fees or penalties collected by the DPUC would be directly returned to the ratepayers.
According to the legislation, utility carriers must file an annual emergency response plan, which is subject to the review and approval of the DPUC, for the purposes of prompt utility restoration after a storm or other emergency.
“We have given the utility companies every chance to provide the service that Rhode Islanders pay handsomely for and deserve, yet every year, we all are experiencing more and longer periods of utility outage. Power and heat are not luxuries that people can afford to go without and this legislation will not only hold our well-paid utility companies accountable for unreliable and lackluster service, but more importantly, it will cause these companies to prepare properly so that future storms and emergencies no long jeopardize crucial utility services,” concluded Whip Kazarian.
The bill has been referred to the House Corporations Committee.