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Coakley Seeks $16M In Fines For National Grid's Storm Response

State Attorney General Martha Coakley has announced she's seeking more than $16 million in fines against National Grid for the utility's response to Tropical Storm Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm.

Coakley's office said the fines — sought for a lack of communication with local leaders, low staffing levels and slow response times — would be a record high. She's recommending $4.6 million for National Grid's response to Irene and $11.7 million for its response to the storm.

"This is the largest penalty we’ve ever sought in Massachusetts, and we believe it’s for a good reason," Coakley said during a news conference Thursday.

She added: "This is a public utility, it's highly regulated, you're not doing well enough, and consumers can and should expect better. So, I'm hopeful that this will send a message."

In a statement, National Grid spokeswoman Deborah Drew said she disagrees with Coakley's "extreme conclusions:"

We will bring our formal response on the storm proceeding on August 1 with the Department of Public Utilities, and we will wait to see what they find and recommend. While we acknowledge that our storm restoration efforts did not meet our customers' expectations, and there is room for improvement, we strongly disagree with the extreme conclusions the attorney general has drawn. We will address those issues in our August 1 response to the DPU. We will continue to work to provide the level of service our customers expect and deserve.

State utility regulators ultimately have the authority to issue fines.

In a release, Coakley's office said that if the fines are granted, "the penalties cannot be passed on to National Grid customers and must be borne by shareholders. Under current law, the penalties would be paid to the Commonwealth’s general fund."

Coakley has also announced support for pending legislation that would "ensure that penalties ordered by DPU would be returned to customers, not the general fund."

Coakley said she'll also seek similar fines against the state's other big utility, NStar.

Tropical Storm Irene, which hit in late August 2011, caused widespread power outages throughout the state.

The October storm dumped up to 30 inches of snow on parts of Massachusetts, and also left hundreds of thousands of customers without power for days.

This program aired on July 26, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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