A recent Press Herald editorial, “Our View: Maine finishes last in race to keep lights on” (Jan. 15, Page A4), implies that the Maine Public Utilities Commission plays no role in proactively setting reasonable electric service reliability standards for the state, charging that “regulators should determine whether the state’s utilities are doing enough.”

That is exactly what the Maine Public Utilities Commission does every day. The commission sets standards for service and holds the energy companies accountable for meeting them. It considers how companies like Central Maine Power can and should improve service, and what the reasonable costs are for doing so. If there is a question about performance, the MPUC can – and does – conduct investigations.

In 2008, CMP entered into a rate agreement, negotiated with the Office of the Public Advocate and the Industrial Energy Consumers Group and approved by the commission, that enabled the company to invest more heavily in trimming trees in our rights of way. Depending on storm activity, falling trees and limbs are responsible for 50 to 80 percent of all outages. By agreeing to inspect lines and trim problem trees – a best practice in the industry – CMP asserted it could improve service by reducing both the frequency of outages and the duration of the outages through trimming every portion of our service area every five years and increasing regular line inspections. The MPUC agreed, and set very specific targets for performance.

Over the period covered by the rate agreement, 2008-2013, CMP met those increasingly demanding targets each year. While under our current rate agreement we do not have specific reliability targets, we continue to meet the target set for the final year of the agreement in 2013, and we report our reliability statistics to the MPUC each year.

Following the worst storm in our company’s history in October 2017, while CMP restored service to nearly 80 percent of the 470,000 customers who lost power within two days, it took nearly nine days to clear the trees and repair the damage to the midcoast and completely restore all customers. As part of ensuring proper outage recovery, the MPUC launched an investigation into our response and found it to be reasonable.

CMP also reports our annual reliability information, following standards set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, to the U.S. Energy Information Administration – the agency that issued the annual report indicating that Maine ranks last in reliability. If one were to “take a hard look at the data,” as the editorial encourages, one would note that only about a third of companies across the country even report their data to the Energy Information Administration, many no longer following the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers standard. And, as a member of a larger family of utility companies in the Northeast, we know that all states have different definitions of what an “outage” is – so the information comprising the rankings is not based on common assumptions.

Improving reliability in rural and sparsely populated areas requires more investment in technology and expertise: using new and more durable materials for utility poles and wire, reorganizing circuits to limit impacts, improving system automation and more aggressively managing vegetation are all potential solutions. In the distribution rate case currently before the MPUC, CMP has proposed improving system resiliency by investing in a variety of these approaches.

Ultimately, the state must balance the reliability of service with costs to all customers based on an acceptable level of investment by the energy companies; the MPUC then determines what level of performance is expected. Energy companies must provide reliable service within the cost parameters set by rate cases and be held accountable for it. This is how it works.

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