National Grid Fined $750,000 By MA DPU for Inadequate Storm Prep and Response

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

 

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On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) issued an Order that imposes a $750,000 penalty on National Grid for inadequate storm preparation and power restoration efforts related to an October 29, 2017 windstorm that affected over 330,000 National Grid electric customers in 166 communities.

The fine is just the latest for National Grid hit which is owned by a British-based energy conglomerate. On Monday, National Grid was forced to shut off natural gas to 7,100 customers triggering a State of Emergency in RI on Aquidneck Island.

The investigation by the MA DPU, which included public hearings for impacted residents, businesses, and local officials, found that National Grid failed to comply with DPU guidelines and regulations as well as the company’s own Emergency Response Plan.  

“The Department of Public Utilities is committed to ensuring electric ratepayers across the Commonwealth are provided with a high level of service, especially during times of extreme weather events,” said DPU Chairman Angela M. O’Connor. “Following a comprehensive investigation which focused on preparations before the storm, restoration efforts after the storm, and communications with affected communities, the Department found that National Grid’s storm response did not meet existing protocols and did not provide the required restoration efforts to its ratepayers. The Department will continue to work with utilities across the Commonwealth to ensure that storm response plans are focused on increasing reliability for ratepayers.”

As part of its investigation, the DPU found that National Grid did not properly classify the severity of the storm, and as a result, fewer resources were available for customers and communities which ultimately affected the restoration efforts.  Additionally, the DPU found that the company did not adequately communicate with its customers or public officials. 

According to the MA DPU, these communications problems hampered restoration efforts and, among other things, kept customers from having accurate information about expected restoration times.

In accordance with the Order, National Grid has 30 days to submit a proposal to the DPU outlining the mechanism by which the company will disperse the penalty of $750,000 to customers. In addition to the monetary penalty, and in an effort to help protect ratepayers, the DPU has required National Grid to change its Emergency Response Plan to include updated communication protocols designed to improve future restoration efforts.

 

Related Slideshow: 15 Things to Know About the Newport Gas Emergency - New Fact and Unanswered Questions

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Gas Supplier Had Two Disasters on Monday

As GoLocal first reported on Tuesday, Algonquin Gas Transmission Co., which is owned by Enbridge Inc. is tied to another gas crisis that took place on Monday -- in the midwest.

On Monday, an explosion occurred in Summerville, Ohio that media described as causing a 200-foot fireball, damaged houses and caused at least one injury.

Enbridge claims no connection between the two disasters.

"In Ohio, the incident is under investigation. There is no link between the two [issues]," said Michael Barnes, a spokesperson for Enbridge in Ohio in an email to GoLocal.

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Hotels Closed Due to Lack of Gas

While National Grid is providing hotel rooms to thousands of impacted residents, these hotels are closed or impacted:

Castle Hill Inn, Newport
The Chanler, Newport
Forty 1 North, Newport
Hotel Viking, Newport
Mill Street Inn, Newport
Newport Bay Club, Newport
The Newport (Newport Harbor Hotel & Marina), Newport
The Vanderbilt

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Businesses Are Shutting Down During Ordeal

Dozens and dozens of businesses have been forced to close in Newport. Call before heading out.

The Brick Alley Pub on Thames Street posted the following Tuesday morning:

We Are Closed Today (1.22.19)

We still do not have gas down at Brick Alley. No gas means that we cannot cook, wash dishes or wash hands.

We will update you when we back up and running.

The Bodhi Spa posted the following on Tuesday night:

Regretfully we are also without gas and therefore heat!! I will post each evening to let you know how we are progressing with the @nationalgrid gas outage. Fingers crossed the spa is up and running soon.

As for Jan 23rd, we are CLOSED. Thank you for your patience.
 

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Space Heaters Available, City of Newport Warns About Safety

The City of Newport said that National Grid has informed them that additional space heaters are currently available for pickup at the National Grid Customer Information Center at Gurney's Resort on Goat Island. The space heaters, which are being provided free of charge, will be available on a first-come first-served basis to all those affected by the ongoing gas outage.

The City went on to state, "Please note that if you're currently using - or plan on using - a space heater, be sure to remember the following":

Between 2011 and 2015, portable and stationary space heaters accounted for more than two of every five (43 percent) U.S. home heating fires and five out of six (85 percent) home heating fire deaths.

In an effort to inform residents about the potential dangers of using portable electric space heaters, the following safety information is provided by the National Fire Protection Association:

• Only portable heaters with the seal of a qualified testing laboratory such as FM or UL should be used.

• Keep the heater at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including people.

• Choose a heater with a thermostat and overheat protection.

• Place the heater on a solid, flat surface.

• Make sure your heater has an auto shut-off to turn the heater off if it tips over.

• Keep space heaters out of the way of foot traffic.

• Never block an exit with the heater.

• Keep children and pets away from the space heater.

• Plug the heater directly into the wall outlet - Never use an extension cord with a portable heater.

• Space heaters should be turned off and unplugged when you leave the room or go to bed.

• Check that your home has working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms by pressing the “test” button.

• Cooking ovens are not designed or listed to be used for extended periods of time and should never be used to heat the home.

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More Than 30 Restaurants Closed or Impacted

22 Bowen's Wine Bar & Grille, Newport (Closed through 1/23)
Bar & Board, Newport
Brick Alley Pub, Newport
Caleb & Broad, Newport
Corner Cafe, Newport
Cru Cafe, Newport
The Fifth Element, Newport
Fluke Newport
Gas Lamp Grille, Newport
The Grill at Forty 1 North, Newport
Jo's American Bistro, Newport
La Forge Restaurant, Newport
Lucia's Italian Restaurant, Newport
Malt on Broadway, Newport
Midtown Oyster Bar, Newport
Mission, Newport
The Mooring, Newport (Closed through 1/23)
Newport Blues Cafe, Newport
O'Brien's Pub, Newport
One Bellevue at Hotel Viking, Newport
Pasta Beach, Newport
Pour Judgement, Newport (Closed at 5PM)
The Red Parrot, Newport
Safari Room at OceanCliff, Newport
Saltwater at Newport Harbor Hotel, Newport
Scratch Kitchen & Catering, Newport
Speakeasy Bar & Grill, Newport
Stoneacre Brasserie, Newport (Closed through 4 PM on 1/23)
Surf Club, Newport
Vanderbilt Grill at The Vanderbilt, Newport
White Horse Tavern, Newport
Winner Winner, Newport

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Some of the Biggest Tourist Attractions Are Closed:

Newport Art Museum
Redwood Library & Athenaeum, Newport
Rosecliff, Newport

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Big Hit to Tourism - and Economy

Late January might be the off-season in Newport, but the city still attracts tens of thousands of visitors -- think getaway weekends and off-season tourists.

While the economic impact is not yet fully understood and the length of the State of Emergency may go one for a week or weeks, the cost of the disaster won't be known for weeks or months.

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Newport Schools Closed

For Newport's nearly 2,200 school children, schools are closed.

For one of the worst performing school departments in the state, according to test results, the impact to the school calendar is unknown.

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Financial Claims Can be Pursued the Following Ways

- Call and leave info (name, service address, mailing address if different, account #, return phone #) on 781-907-3930; a claim form will be mailed to you

- Email and request a claim form on [email protected]

- Show up in person at Newport Customer Information Center tomorrow (Wed 1/23/19) at Gurney’s Resort, 1 Goat Island, Newport, RI, and Grid will be passing out claim forms and helping customers to submit claims

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National Grid Will Reimburse for:

National Grid will cover the following costs on a reimbursement basis, as long as they are directly related to the gas event at hand:

Reasonable lodging accommodation while gas service is unavailable 

Reasonable meals while gas service is unavailable

Up to $250 per household for temporary heaters (i.e. space heaters, etc.)

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Damage to Homes -- Burst Pipes

After asking the questions to National Grid multiple times, the company responded:

"Some have asked about the potential of damage to the home because of the cold:   Each claim will be assigned to a Claims Adjuster, reviewed and handled on a case by case basis."

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How Was the Problem First Detected?

According to National Grid, "Our Gas Control System in Northboro [Massachusetts] constantly monitors our gas system and detected the low-pressure situation on Aquidneck Island. The interruption in service was due to a transmission supply issue from our natural gas supplier – Algonquin Gas Transmission Co., which is owned by Enbridge Inc."

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Triggering Event -- Decision to Shutdown

"The low pressure initially caused 339 customers in Middletown to lose service.   As the day progressed, out of an abundance of caution, we made the decision to stop gas service to roughly 6,400 customers in the city of Newport," said Grid. "When that decision was made, we communicated that information as quickly as possible to our customers, stakeholders and the general public."

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Who is the Point for the State of Rhode Island's Response?

According to Governor Gina Raimondo's office, RI Emergency Management Agency is the official point of contact and leading the response.

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Questions National Grid Won't Answer

The following questions have been possed to National Grid repeatedly:

National Grid has refused to answer if they are self-insured.

The company has refused to answer questions about the cost of the response.

They have refused to respond to questions about the costs potentially being passed on the consumers in Rhode Island via a request for a rate hike.

 

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