ENERGY: Summit on pace to finish replacement by year’s end

Summit Natural Gas of Maine is on track to complete an equipment inspection and replacement process required by state regulators by an end-of-year deadline, according to documents filed with the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

This fall, the commission ordered Summit to inspect physically and replace hundreds of pipe couplings that had been installed incorrectly on its Kennebec valley gas distribution network.

The commission gave Summit until Dec. 31 to complete its inspection program or find alternate heating fuel for affected customers. Read the story

Deal produces new parent company for CMP

Iberdrola USA and UIL Holdings Corp. have closed on the Spanish firm’s $3 billion purchase of the Connecticut parent company of several local energy firms, including Central Maine Power Co.

Following the closing Wednesday, the combined company will operate under the name Avangrid Inc., and it will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol AGR.

The deal combines eight electric and natural gas utilities with an $8.3 billion rate base and serving 3.1 million customers in New York and New England. The Avangrid utilities will continue to operate in offices in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine and New York. Central Maine Power, which serves 600,000 homes and businesses in the state, is Maine’s largest electricity transmission and distribution utility. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION: Carmaker Tesla opens Augusta charging station

Tesla – maker of upscale, all-electric cars – opened a supercharging station in the Martketplace at Augusta mall Monday, its most northerly terminus on its network of charging stations dotted along the Interstate 95 corridor.

The supercharging stations add up to 170 miles of range on Model S in 30 minutes of charging. Superchargers are designed for city-to-city travel, allowing Tesla Model S drivers to travel for about three hours, take a quick break and get back on the road.

The supercharging station was met with some curiosity by city officials who saw its installation a few weeks ago. There are only 32 Tesla owners in the entire state of Maine. Read the story.

HEALTH CARE: Maine hospitals fined for infection rates

Maine Medical Center and seven other Maine hospitals have been fined by the federal government because they were in the bottom 25 percent of hospitals in the nation for patients contracting avoidable infections.

Maine Med’s score was the worst in Maine, and the Portland hospital had a much higher infection rate than the national median. Even so, the hospital’s vice president of quality and patient safety at Maine Med, said the hospital’s infection rate has declined significantly over the past 10 years because of reforms that have been put in place, but noted more improvement is needed.

Maine Med will likely have to pay the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services more than $1 million in penalties.

The federal government evaluates infections in a number of categories where hospitals can improve patient safety – such as urinary tract infections from catheters, infections from central line catheters placed in large veins, and infections resulting from common surgeries such as hysterectomies.

The scores are one facet of sweeping Affordable Care Act reforms that aim to improve patient safety.

The other Maine hospitals that incurred a fine for having higher-than-average infection rates were Mercy Hospital in Portland, Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, York Hospital and Maine Coast Memorial in Ellsworth. Read the story.

Partnership opens access for experimental cancer treatments

Mainers will gain access to clinical research trials of new cancer-fighting drugs at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston under a wide-ranging partnership between the institute and MaineHealth.

Officials said the partnership could benefit many people since Maine has the highest rate of cancer in the country. Maine, the state with the oldest median age, has about 9,000 new cancer patients every year, and about 70 percent of them are treated at Maine Med or in the MaineHealth network.

The agreement is expected to give Maine patients access to experimental treatments. Read the story.

Whistleblower case filed by ex-nursing home employee

A decision handed down Tuesday by Maine’s highest court has revived a lawsuit against a Scarborough nursing home filed by a former employee who alleged that she was terminated in retaliation for raising staffing and safety complaints to her managers.

The case is the fifth complaint of retaliation against a whistleblower at Pine Point Center in recent years, and a sixth is pending with the Maine Human Rights Commission, said an attorney involved in the case.

The decision Tuesday by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court centers on Karen Cormier, who was fired in January 2012 from the Pine Point Center, where she had worked as a certified nursing assistant for 10 years.

Pine Point is a 58-bed facility for long- and short-term care. It is owned by Genesis Health Care, a national for-profit company that runs 10 other similar facilities in Maine. Read the story.

TECHNOLOGY: Call center partnership dissolves

In a reversal of the outsourcing trend, an Indian-based tech support company looked to the U.S. to create up to 300 jobs in partnership with a Lewiston call center operator.

Argo Marketing terminated the contract with iYogi in October and filed a lawsuit for nonpayment this month. Only 30 people were hired in Lewiston.

The news in Maine coincides with a lawsuit filed in Washington state that accuses iYogi of scamming customers into buying software and services they don’t need. Read the story.

RETAIL: Store managers report strong holiday sales

Maine retailers say this year’s holiday shopping season is shaping up to be at least as strong as last year’s.

Statewide, most retailers have been reporting healthy sales for the first half of December, said Curtis Picard, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine.

Last December, shoppers in Maine spent $385.8 million on general merchandise. It was the strongest December showing since 2007, when shoppers spent $389.6 million.

Picard said figures for the current month won’t be available until late February. Read the story.

LABOR: Bangor adopts higher minimum wage

Bangor’s City Council says the city’s minimum wage will go up whether voters pass a statewide referendum or not. The council approved an amendment on Monday that will serve as a fallback if the referendum fails next year. The minimum wage will be raised locally if a statewide referendum to increase Maine’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 fails. Bangor’s minimum wage hike would begin in 2017. Read the story.

Maine’s unemployment rate continues to drop

Maine’s unemployment rate continued its decline, reaching 4.1 percent for the month of November led by the Portland metro area rate of 3.1 percent.

October’s rate was 4.3 for the state, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Labor. November’s rate of 4.1 percent was more than a full percentage point lower than the same month last year when the Maine jobless rate was 5.5 percent.

The U.S. preliminary unemployment rate of 5.0 percent was unchanged from October and down from 5.8 percent one year ago. Read the story.