THE OCTOBER 2017 windstorm left thousands without power for days, hitting the Midcoast especially hard. TIMES RECORD FILEPHOTO

THE OCTOBER 2017 windstorm left thousands without power for days, hitting the Midcoast especially hard. TIMES RECORD FILEPHOTO


State Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, thinks a Public Utilities Commission report about Central Maine Power’s handling of its system during the October 2017 wind storm took it too easy on one of the state’s largest utility.

The report released Friday concluded the company acted reasonably in its restoration efforts, considering the circumstances, though it recommended improvements be made to how the company provides information to customers.

“The preparation for and response to the storm by CMP and Emera Maine were reasonable,” the report states. “The October Storm did, however, reveal areas for improvement, including with respect to coordination and communication, as well as accuracy of outage and restoration time information provided to customers.”

Berry said the report was too soft on the company.

“I agree with parts of it, I disagree with other parts,” he said. “I think it’s not incorrect in its facts, but I think some of its conclusions are a little soft on CMP.”

Hundreds of thousands of customers were left without power following the storm, and in its aftermath, Central Maine Power’s website frequently gave inaccurate information about outages and when power would be restored. So when the utility claimed last week that “the smart meter system gave us excellent data on the scope of damage, and as repairs progressed, it allowed us to confirm restoration more efficiently,” Berry reacted strongly.

“CMP needs to level with us, admit mistakes, and keep their story straight if they are ever going to rebuild trust with Maine people,” said Berry, House chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, last week. “How can we believe them when their story flip-flops every few months?”

CMP spokesperson Gail Rice responded by maintaining that the company’s smart meters provided important information on outages that allowed the company to restore power after the “unprecedented” storm. In fact, the company claimed, the smart meter technology gave it more information about the scope of storm damage than during previous storms when it didn’t have them in place.

Berry argues that claim flies in the face of the company’s earlier statements on what data they had following the storm. He said CMP spokespeople have testified at various points over the past year that the smart meter system had “flatlined” during the storm and the company was “flying blind” in its response efforts.

“CMP has reported to my commission and to the PUC at the height of the outage only 48 percent of their AMI was actually operations,” said Berry, “and that’s in the entire territory, much of which wasn’t hit badly by the storm.”

Rice said that although many smart meters weren’t working immediately following the storm, that gave them information they could use to restore power.

“When meters stop communicating with us, that is a very clear indication that power is out at that meter location,” she said. “That is crucial information to have as we mobilize crews to respond.

“We had more and better information, and we had it earlier during the October storm, thanks to the smart meters and related equipment,” Rice added.

Berry maintains that the company did not have the data it needed to effectively respond to the storm.

“The smart meter system is critical to their deployment of resources,” he said, “and they deployed their resources poorly and inefficiently … by not having accurate data.”

For its part, CMP says it is working to improve their smart meter system. In an press release issued last week, the company noted that it had wired its smart meter network with backup generators, increased the number of emergency mobile generators and enhanced its ability to make minor repairs to smart meter equipment.

“Combined with other planned enhancements to the system, CMP expects these measures to markedly improve smart meter network visibility during a major storm or outage event,” the company said in a statement.

“It is unfortunate that Rep. Berry does not seem interested in our efforts to improve our systems and processes, nor will he acknowledge when we take proactive steps,” said Rice.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: