I’d like to address inaccuracies in a commentary by three former Maine Public Utilities Commission members (“Don’t put politicians in charge of our electric grid”), published in the Press Herald’s online edition June 14.

Central Maine Power Co., whose Cape Substation, in South Portland, is seen, serves 11,000 square miles, with 58 customers per square mile. Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative serves 3,000 square miles, with only four customers per square mile. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer, File

The commentary claims Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative is “comparable” to Central Maine Power and then attempts to unfavorably compare Eastern Maine Electric’s service and rates to CMP’s. However, Eastern Maine Electric and CMP have significant differences that make any apples-to-apples comparison faulty and misleading. Eastern Maine Electric is a small northeastern Maine cooperative that is owned and controlled by its customers. Its territory is extremely rural and largely forested. The largest community served is Calais, with about 3,000 people. CMP serves southern Maine, with large urban areas, including Portland, with about 66,000 people.

Data show Eastern Maine Electric and CMP are not comparable with respect to customer density. CMP serves 646,000 customers over 26,000 miles of power lines (24 customers per power line mile). Eastern Maine Electric serves 12,800 customers over 1,765 miles of power lines (only seven customers per power line mile). Eastern Maine Electric’s customer density under this measurement is less than a third of CMP’s. Other data show CMP serves 11,000 square miles, with 58 customers per square mile. Eastern Maine Electric serves 3,000 square miles, with only four customers per square mile. The customer density of Eastern Maine Electric under this measurement is one-fifteenth the density of CMP. (Accurate data are important for such comparisons. A recent white paper incorrectly stated Eastern Maine Electric serves 300 square miles and has a customer density of 42 customers per square mile.)

Longer power lines serving fewer customers can experience higher outage durations. Because Eastern Maine Electric’s territory is much less dense than  CMP’s, this should result in substantially greater outage time in Eastern Maine Electric’s territory, compared to CMP’s. Yet data show Eastern Maine Electric and CMP outage statistics are quite similar. Considering Eastern Maine Electric’s more forested and less customer-dense territory, its reliability performance is significantly better than expected compared to CMP.

The commentary also compares Eastern Maine Electric and CMP with respect to rates. Again, the two do not have the comparable characteristics necessary to support such a comparison. Customer density has a significant impact on rates. Lower customer density can cause higher rates as there are fewer customers to cover fixed costs. Despite the substantial density differences between Eastern Maine Electric and CMP, Eastern Maine Electric’s residential delivery rate of 8.9 cents per kilowatt-hour is only slightly higher than the CMP residential delivery rate of 7.6 cents per kWh. Also, the Eastern Maine Electric electricity supply rate (5.9 cents per kWh) is lower than the CMP electricity supply rate (6.5 cents per kWh). The total (delivery and supply) Eastern Maine Electric residential rate is less than 1 cent per kWh more than that of CMP. Thus, Eastern Maine Electric’s rates are very close to CMP’s, despite Eastern Maine Electric’s territory being much more costly to serve. (Also, the Eastern Maine Electric residential delivery rate of 8.9 cents is less than Versant Power-Bangor Hydro District residential rate of 10.7 cents per kWh.)

The commentary also incorrectly describes the reason for an Eastern Maine Electric bankruptcy filing in 1987, almost 35 years ago. It claims the filing was because Eastern Maine Electric “issued so much debt – without modernizing or cleaning up (its) grid … .” These factors had nothing to do with the bankruptcy filing. The filing was a result of Eastern Maine Electric’s obligation associated with the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. CMP and Versant (then Bangor Hydro) and other New England utilities also had obligations associated with Seabrook.

Finally, Eastern Maine Electric must respond to statements that utilities governed by elected officials are managed “by politicians,” that “political pressure dominates” and that they “favor political interests over investments needed to ensure reliability and grid modernization.” Such statements are not true with respect to Eastern Maine Electric.

Eastern Maine Electric has an elected board consisting of the cooperative’s customers-members, who provide governance and oversight of the cooperative. This board considers and acts on the merits of the issues before it, not for political reasons. Eastern Maine Electric’s quality of service and reasonableness of rates, for what is a very rural service area, disprove any suggestion otherwise.

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