Citing what they call Central Maine Power’s “deteriorating reliability” in the area, a group of Jackman residents has filed a complaint urging the state Public Utilities Commission to investigate the utility.

The complaint follows other criticism of CMP, which has come under fire for its response to outages caused by the October 2017 windstorm, spikes in electricity bills and its plan to build a 145-mile transmission line through parts of northern and central Maine.

The PUC had ordered CMP to respond to the complaint by Thursday, after which it will decide whether to pursue or dismiss the case, according to commission administrative director Harry Lanphear. A CMP official indicated a response had been filed Thursday night but it was not posted on the PUC website as of press time.

The 10-person complaint was filed on Dec. 13 by Jackman resident Darien Sawyer, a local pastor, and nine other signees. It contends CMP is practicing unjust discrimination, giving “undue or unreasonable preference, advantage, prejudice or disadvantage” to ratepayers in the town, who pay the statewide rate but receive poorer service. It also alleges that CMP is violating a state law that requires public utilities to “furnish safe, reasonable and adequate facilities and service.”

The complaint says power outages in Jackman increased 275 percent in frequency and 440 percent in duration from 2013 to 2017, although the source of that data is not cited in the complaint.

“CMP outages are putting elderly citizens, shut-ins and families of young children at risk during cold weather in our area,” the complaint states. “Further, these extended outages increase risks of frozen pipes and extensive damage to homes and businesses. Some citizens without cellphone coverage cannot access 911 when there is a loss of power. Almost half the area ratepayers have had to purchase generators, causing financial stress, and lack of reliable power has a negative effect on future businesses, economic and community growth.”

Resident Rene Guay said he cannot remember when CMP’s service has been worse.

A Central Maine Power Co. line runs across Route 201 in Jackman. Residents filed a complaint against the utility with the Public Utilities Commission over longer and more frequent power outages across town.

“I’m 60 years old, I’ve lived here my entire life and I’m very confident in saying that I’ve lost more power in the last four years – and for longer periods of time – than I have in the previous 54 to 55 years of my life combined,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “It (can be) summertime – it doesn’t matter. If there’s wind, there’s a guaranteed outage.”

REMOTE LOCATION A CHALLENGE

Catherine Hartnett, manager of corporate communications for CMP, said Jackman’s remote location makes providing reliable service more challenging.

“CMP always strives to provide safe and reliable service to all customers,” Hartnett said in an email to the Morning Sentinel. “Given the remote nature of Jackman, this can be more challenging in bad weather and storm conditions, particularly given the impacts of uprooted trees and falling branches on our poles and wires.”

Hartnett also questioned the data in the complaint, saying the utility would be “clarifying and correcting the outage information provided by those bringing the complaint, as they do not correspond with our own service and personnel records.”

Although Guay was not one of the complaint’s 10 signers, he left a public comment on the case, accessible via the Public Utilities Commission website. Guay runs an online natural forest-product business called Spirit of the Woods. When power outages cause the internet to be down for extended – and unpredictable – chunks of time, he says he loses an increasing amount of revenue.

Central Maine Power Co. utility pole and lines off Route 201 in Jackman. Residents in the town have complained that the utility’s service has been increasingly unreliable over the past five years.

“I have a 100 percent internet business, and when the power goes down I can’t even communicate with my customers – and that’s an all day, every day thing,” Guay said. “A very high percentage of them order or want custom orders. When I can’t communicate with them – and let alone for two to three days at a time – they go someplace else, and that’s happened a lot.”

The complaint notes that “backup power could be available in Canada (8 miles away) and Rockwood (20 miles) but CMP refuses to provide our communities backup.”

The Dec. 13 complaint requests that CMP present a long-term plan to address its deficiencies, including what it says is the company’s “diminished workforce” and outdated equipment.

Hartnett said the company’s workforce is adequate.

“As directed by the MPUC, we have maintained a consistent level of staffing for Jackman supported by crews from Skowhegan and contracted crews,” she said. “We feel the staffing is adequate and responsive to outages. Our equipment and vehicles are also up-to-date. We constructed a new service facility in Jackman in 2000 and maintain service equipment and our fleet.”

PUC TIMELINE UNCERTAIN

Lanphear said the commission will address the Jackman case as early as January.

“Our process is: We get the complaint, we give the utility the opportunity to respond to that complaint, and then one of two things happen,” he explained. “If we happen to be satisfied with the utility’s response, we could dismiss the complaint. If we’re not satisfied, we could open up a formal investigation and schedule hearings, et cetera.

“(The timeline) really depends on (CMP’s) response,” Lanphear said. “If their response is thorough and we can make a decision, then it could be fairly quickly that we decide what to do. If their response doesn’t fully answer all the issues, we could ask for additional information. That has happened in the past, which could extend things. Usually, we turn things around fairly quickly. … If we get all the data and we don’t have to follow up and ask for additional data, I would think we would be able to deliberate that in January sometime.”

The town’s issues with CMP’s electric service come on the heels of a controversial debate over the company’s proposal for a 145-mile long transmission line that would cut through western Maine to bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts. While the line would not pass directly through Jackman, it would transverse adjacent communities.

“That’s like a major slap in the face to us,” said Guay. “If they had the money to buy all this land and dump billions of dollars into trying to get this corridor going, but they can’t take care of what they have already – it is very frustrating for us. It’s putting salt on the wound. Let’s put it that way.”

The proposed corridor, called New England Clean Energy Connect, has a project budget of $950 million and would be funded by Massachusetts electricity customers. CMP owns the land that the line would cut through, although it is unclear when the company acquired that land and for how much. In November, Jackman residents voted 78-11 against the project.

Meg Robbins can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

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