State Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) testified Tuesday at a public comment meeting before the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) as part of an investigation into “National Grid’s preparation, performance and management of the October 29‐30, 2017 storm.”
Due to a problem with the video equipment, only the last 18 minutes of public comment video was recorded and preserved by the DPUC here.
Here is Regunberg’s testimony:
I want to thank the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) for taking such an active leadership role in this accountability work.
I can speak today to the experience of my constituents in House District 4. We had some neighborhoods where the power went out – including areas with a lot of elderly folks. By the middle of the week after the storm, residents were starting to feel really vulnerable and anxious.
They also felt that their calls and pleas to National Grid weren’t getting through. We were told power wouldn’t be back on till the very end of the week, November 3rd.
Finally, after trying all the usual channels to get through on behalf of my neighbors, I reached out to folks I know personally, as a state representative, in higher positions with the utility. And I want to share my appreciation that I got a response, eventually.
But that’s not how you want this to work. Rhode Islanders deserve a system where you don’t need to know a guy to get your critical service needs addressed in a timely manner.
We need a system where there is direct, community accountability – where there are public mechanisms that are able to respond more quickly to a community’s needs. And this year, I will be introducing legislation to that effect.
I also want to discuss one more issue that I have noticed in the aftermath of the storm. I don’t have an empirical analysis, but I, for one, have noticed a huge increase in National Grid’s advertising since the storm. These ads are ostensibly to get the word out about our energy efficiency programs, but we’re talking about a half-page or a full-page ad with one little line about energy efficiency on a big, warm picture of a family with National Grid’s logo emblazoned all across. When you look at these ads, the message you get is not, “I should sign up for this efficiency program,” it’s “National Grid, Here With You, Here for You.”
I am concerned about the possibility that our energy efficiency dollars are being used for a National Grid PR campaign, particularly during moments when they feel politically vulnerable, like in the aftermath of a poorly managed storm response. That would be a huge betrayal of the public trust. I will continue to work on the legislation I introduced last year to audit these expenditures, but I would also encourage the DPUC during your analysis and interrogation through the rate case to really take a tough look at the utility’s use of advertising dollars, among other issues. I believe there’s a huge amount of expenditures in National Grid’s proposal that are not about the public good but rather about Grid’s corporate profits and prerogatives, and I urge you to resolve and eliminate these expenses rather than confirm another rate hike.