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National Grid in $1m settlement over storm response

Utility must provide training to firefighters

'Today’s action . . . ensures additional training, resources, and coordination with the . . . public safety community.' "Today’s action . . . ensures additional training, resources, and coordination with the . . . public safety community."
By Stewart Bishop
Globe Correspondent / June 8, 2011

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Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced a settlement worth more than $1 million with National Grid yesterday, after the company came under scrutiny for its performance following the devastating winter storm of Dec. 26, according to Coakley’s office.

As part of the settlement, the giant utility will be required to pay $50,000 each to the United Way and the Red Cross, pay $150,000 and provide power-related training equipment to the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, and pay for related training for several local police and fire departments, Coakley said in a statement.

In addition, the utility must sponsor a university study with the goal of improving emergency response planning, train additional employees who can respond to downed wires, perform a public education program regarding downed power lines, and reimburse cities and towns for costs incurred dealing with the outages during the storm.

Finally, it must make significant improvements to communications with public safety officials, the attorney general said.

National Grid drew criticism from Coakley and others for its response to the blizzard, which left more than 120,000 customers without power. The London-based company was also questioned for its decision in January to lay off 1,200 workers, which Coakley said could adversely affect the utility’s ability to respond to emergencies.

“Today’s action provides benefits for National Grid’s customers and ensures additional training, resources, and coordination with the region’s public safety community,’’ Coakley said.

National Grid spokeswoman Deborah Drew praised the settlement and said the company and the attorney general share a goal of ensuring reliable service.

“We thank Attorney General Coakley and her staff for their willingness to work collaboratively with us to arrive at this settlement,’’ Drew said. “Each storm presents unique circumstances, and we believe our performance during recent events reflects the strong level of performance we deliver to customers during major restorations.’’

State Representative James M. Cantwell, a Democrat who represents Marshfield and Scituate, said emergency workers in his district were incensed by National Grid’s response to numerous power-related emergencies during and after the December storm.

“We were furious about the lack of preparation by National Grid during that storm,’’ he said. “I’m very pleased to see the fairly substantial settlement numbers.’’

Scituate was hit especially hard in the aftermath of the blizzard, when a seawall was breached and fires and chest-deep floodwaters laid waste to numerous homes in the oceanside community.

Cantwell said National Grid, which covers Scituate, was unresponsive to emergency crews for several hours, compared with nearby Marshfield, which is served by NStar, which Cantwell said was prepared for the storm.

“NStar had boots on the ground all over the place,’’ he said.

The settlement needs to be approved by the Department of Public Utilities by Aug. 1 in order to become effective, Coakley said.

Stewart Bishop can be reached at sbishop@globe.com.