Questions Linger Around Power Companies' Response to Wind Storm Outages

Most of the damage has been cleaned up from a wild wind storm in Maine, but questions remain about the state’s power companies, and how they handled the unprecedented amount of power outages.

The storm hit around Halloween, and left more than 500,000 customers without electricity. Some waited for nearly 10 days to get power back.

"We need to ask ourselves, ‘Are we ready for the next storm?'" said Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, who co-chairs the legislature’s Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee.

Berry and other committee members plan to convene in January to investigate how power companies like Central Maine Power and Emera Maine responded to the outages. Berry said the goal is to first understand how they responded, and then discuss possibilities for reducing the number and duration of outages in future storms.

Some possibilities include more aggressive tree trimming and creating underground power lines.

"I think if CMP supported a more resilient grid, many more people would have had outages for less time, and some wouldn’t have had outages at all," said Berry. His sons go to Mt. Arat High School in Topsham. The power outages closed the school for an entire week.

"It had a very significant impact on parents and the entire community," he said.

Central Maine Power spokesperson Gail Rice said the company responded well to an overwhelming demand for services.

"This was the worst storm, in terms of outages, we’ve experienced in 117 years serving people in Maine," said Rice. "We feel we did a good job, with the enormity of the damage."

Rice said there were 470,000 CMP customers without power during the peak of the storm, and they had about 80 percent of those outages restored by three days.

She said while some have criticized the company’s response, others have praised it.

She said CMP believes the best entity to address concerns and investigations is the Public Utility Commission, not the legislature. And she said the company supports improvements to the grid, but recognizes the cost and consequences associated with it.

"We support systems to make our grid more resilient, but at the same time we need to be very conscious about the impact that these could have on our customers’ bills," said Rice.

The legislative committee plans to convene in January.

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