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High court reins in state’s fines on utilities

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court lowered some of the fines that the state had imposed on utility companies for slow response times and poor communications during and after two storms in 2011.

After those storms, tropical storm Irene in August 2011 and a snowstorm in late October, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, or DPU, imposed fines of $18.73 million against National Grid. The court reduced that amount by $900,000.

Part of National Grid’s fine was a penalty of $200,000 per day for six days of “poor damage assessment” during Tropical Storm Irene. The court said National Grid should be fined only for four days rather than six. The court reached a similar conclusion on the October-November storm. In that case, the court vacated two days of penalties at $250,000 per day.

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The Department of Public Utilities also fined NStar $4.075 million. In Wednesday’s ruling, the court affirmed a penalty of $2.075 million. The remaining $2 million portion of NStar’s fine was vacated and sent back to the Department of Public Utilities for further review.

In the case of the $2 million in penalties that were vacated, the court said that the department’s claim that NStar did not respond to some priority calls of downed wires in a timely fashion “was not supported by substantial evidence.”

The court upheld the $2 million fine against the Western Massachusetts Electric Co.
Western Massachusetts Electric and NStar share a corporate parent in Northeast Utilities.

Chris Reidy

Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.