Bill requires emergency planning, brings RI in line with neighboring states
NEWPORT, RI – Governor Gina M. Raimondo and Lieutenant Governor Daniel J. McKee today called for the passage of legislation that would give the state the tools necessary to demand greater accountability from National Grid. Legislation pending before the House and Senate requires National Grid to file comprehensive emergency preparedness plans each year and brings Rhode Island law in line with the laws of neighboring states. The bill also enables the State to levy fines if a utility fails to comply with standards and establishes that such fines be paid by the utility's shareholders and not passed on to ratepayers.
"Earlier this year, this community was shaken by an unexpected gas outage during one of the coldest weeks of the year" said Governor Raimondo. "While we cannot always anticipate an emergency situation, we must ensure our utilities are adequately prepared, and we must have the ability to hold them accountable. This bill holds National Grid to the same standards as our neighboring states and gives us the tools to enforce strong protections for Rhode Islanders in the event of an emergency."
Raimondo, McKee and other officials gathered in Newport to express support for the legislation following the multi-day natural gas service interruption on Aquidneck Island in January that left thousands without heat. An investigation into that incident is being conducted by the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers. The Division will issue a report on its findings once the investigation is complete.
"Extended power outages are a public safety issue and an economic issue that we must begin to address proactively here in Rhode Island," said Lt. Governor McKee. "The Utility Service Restoration Act gives us the tools to hold utility companies to reasonable preparedness and response standards that several nearby states are already using to prevent outages and protect residents."
The Utility Service Restoration Act is sponsored in the House by Representative Brian Patrick Kennedy and in the Senate by Senator Roger Picard.
"I am pleased that this legislation is being put forward and I hope that it leads to utility companies being held accountable after incidents like what happened in Newport," said Mayor of Newport Jamie Bova. "We had thousands of residents without heat in the dead of winter and it is imperative that we as a state do everything we can to prevent similar incidents."
"When emergency utility service is required, customers should have a reasonable expectation of prompt and adequate service," said Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly). "These emergency response plans will also increase safety, particularly as it pertains to natural gas providers. Also, as technology evolves and our reliance upon it expands, the need for quick response from utility companies increases as well. This legislation is already law in Massachusetts and New York, and asks nothing further of National Grid than what it's doing in those states already."
"Utility customers should be able to expect a reasonable level of customer service from their gas and electric companies. For businesses, timely and predictable service is particularly critical, because delays mean higher costs and sometimes slower hiring. If service costs considerably more than the company expected, it can also be a big problem, especially for small businesses. A guarantee of timely, decent service from utilities is necessary for business development and consumers alike," said Senator Picard (D-Dist. 20, Woonsocket, Cumberland).
"The legislation we are highlighting today represents a better way to prepare for emergencies," said Kevin Lynch, Acting Administrator of the DPUC. "Rather than reacting to major events every few years, we will establish, in law, a requirement to annually look forward to incorporate best practices and work with National Grid to develop the best emergency response protocols."
The Utility Service Restoration Act is an updated version of the Lt. Governor's 2018 Utility Emergency Response Bill. The updated language includes provisions specific to the Newport gas outage.