In a recent editorial (Our View, Jan. 15), the Maine Public Utilities Commission was urged to determine whether the state’s utilities were doing enough to keep the lights on.

The editorial cited federal data that indicated Maine was ranked last in terms of electric reliability, but it failed to note that the data are incomplete at best, as many utilities do not report their performance.

One important role the MPUC plays is to set standards for electric service reliability and to oversee how the state’s power companies meet them. In general, the more stringent the reliability standards, the more spending is required by the utilities to achieve them, which in turn raises electric bills to customers.

These issues are among those thoroughly explored in rate cases at the MPUC, where stakeholders such as the public advocate and representatives of consumer groups engage in a process to help the commission make its best determination about the acceptable trade-off between reliability and rates.

The MPUC has long sought ways to contain the cost of improving reliability while holding utilities accountable for their performance. For example, when I served as a commissioner, after a wide-ranging examination that involved many stakeholders and a great deal of analysis, the commission approved a multiyear rate case with Central Maine Power in which we allocated additional money in rates to implement a more aggressive, continuous five-year tree trimming cycle in the company’s service territory while requiring annual improvement in the frequency and duration of outages.

The company’s investment in vegetation management reduced the potential for tree-related outages, and CMP was penalized if it failed to improve its reliability by meeting specific targets.

The MPUC is an agency that always has and will continue to take seriously its obligation to the public to ensure safe and reliable utility service at just and reasonable rates.


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