A utility pole is propped up by a pine tree on High Head Road in Harpswell in the aftermath of an October 2017 storm. File photo / Portland Press Herald

Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, said she is not giving up on her efforts to help Mainers, especially those in the Midcoast, plagued by a high number of long power outages.

Daughtry’s bill to help Mainers buy backup generators failed to get legislative support last month, but she said this week she plans to revise it and reintroduce it at a later date.

“This was the beginning of the conversation,” Daughtry said. “Not sure what it’ll look like just yet, but the goal is to make sure the lights stay on. It is a matter of life and public safety.”

Daughtry Photo Courtesy of Mattie Daughtry

According to the federal Energy Information Administration, Maine rated as the worst state in the country for power outages in 2019, with an average of about 15 outages per customer for 15 hours. West Virginia was a close second at 12 outages and then California with fewer than 10. Maine has topped the list in previous years as well. 

The problem is acute in the southern Midcoast, whose coastlines are defined by islands and peninsulas and the soil is thin.

According to Central Maine Power Co. Midcoast Manager Greg Thompson, a large part of the issue is geography.

“Anything coming in off the gulf, especially high winds, they are susceptible because they are exposed. There is nothing to buffer them,” Thompson said. Going down along the coast, the root systems on bedrock are maybe only in the ground a foot in the half and with a 60-70 foot tree, that’s a disaster. That does cause a challenge and subsequently, when you lose large trees like that, regardless of what you can trim, you’re going have damage.”

When the power goes out on the peninsula, CMP has to tackle each outage in a line moving down the peninsula completing repairs one at a time, meaning a town on the end of the peninsula could go much longer without power than a town closer inland.

A windstorm in March left over 21,000 customers in the area without power before electricity was gradually restored. In October 2017, a windstorm caused the largest power outage in CMP history, with nearly two-thirds of the state losing power, in some cases for days.

If multiple poles are down over bedrock, the duration of the outage lengthens, Thompson said.

Meanwhile, outages inland typically can be handled from numerous directions at once, allowing crews to fix multiple issues at once, restoring power to more people in less time.

Neither CMP nor individual communities could provide specific regional data comparing the number of Midcoast outages with those elsewhere in the state. For each outage repaired in Portland, for example, more than 100 customers are brought back on the grid, but in rural areas like Arrowsic, a repair may only bring back one or two customers at a time, Thompson said.

Daughtry’s bill could have helped brighten things by providing residents a $1,000 rebate on the purchase of a generator. According to Daughtry, the major concerns leading to the bill’s defeat were vague wording and the bill not having a solid means to help residents get their generators set up.

Daughtry plans to address those concerns and bring the bill back in the future.

I’ve had constituents I’ve heard from, seniors on oxygen with no power back up,” Daughtry said. “One woman loaded up her fridge with food for the season and then lost that in a power outage. It happens all the time.”

Topsham Fire and Safety Administrator Arthur Howe said Daughtry’s proposal would have been a good start. He and other local officials say generators are still pricey even with a rebate, with full-house generators that can last a few days costing sometimes $3,000 and more.

Howe said he’d like to see a bill specifically help lower-income people.

“People with a financial hardship are much more deserving of this than multi-millionaires building a camp on the coast,” Howe said.

Arrowsic Select Board Chairperson Walter Briggs said he had “resisted” buying a generator because for “a bunch of reasons it’s not practical here to have a generator at the house.”

“But a few years ago we went with a gas generator that we pull out of the shed if we need to,” Briggs said.

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