Rural Mainers are losing power more often and waiting longer to get it back than most Americans as the ferocity and the frequency of climate-driven extreme weather take their toll on the state’s aging electrical infrastructure.

The average Maine utility customer lost power for about 16 hours total in three separate outages in 2022, according to the most recent data published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The average duration of each outage was 5 ½ hours.

That’s the third-highest average interruption rate in the country, with Maine besting only Tennessee and Alaska, and the second-highest total time spent in the dark, with just West Virginia faring worse. It’s also well above the national average of 5 ½ hours across 1.4 outages, with an average duration of 4 hours.

A lineman with the Kennebunk Light and Power District works to restore power on Kingsbury Lane in Kennebunk where a tree fell on top of wires early Thursday morning. Heavy, wet snow and strong winds are causing another round of power outages in the state. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine utility customers suffered a year-over-year increase in the total time spent in the dark, frequency of outages and average outage duration, EIA data show. In 2021, the typical Maine utility customer was out of power for 5 ½ hours over 2 ½ outages. The average outage duration was just over 2 hours.

A review of two decades of federal data indicates weather is almost always the cause of major outages.

A review of outages affecting at least 50,000 people reported to the federal government and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation revealed that 15 of the 16 outages to hit Maine between 2000 and 2021 were caused by weather events ranging from snowstorms to heavy lightning to hurricanes.


A study conducted by Columbia University public health researchers published in the scientific journal, Nature Communications, in 2022 digs into county-by-county outage data and the frequency of outages lasting over eight hours between 2018 and 2020.

“I believe that climate change and an aging electrical grid could both contribute to more frequent and longer-lasting outages,” said Vivian Do, a Ph.D student at Columbia’s Environmental Health Sciences department who specializes in climate change. She was one of the report’s authors.

During the 2018-20 study period, the Columbia researchers identified 681 power outages in Maine that lasted at least 1 hour, and 37 Maine power outages that lasted longer than 8 hours. But those outages are not evenly distributed across the state, data show.

Hancock, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties were hit hardest. At 143, Penobscot had the most 1-hour outages, followed closely by Piscataquis, 139, and Hancock, 135. But Piscataquis had the most 8-hour outages, with 11. Penobscot and Hancock had six outages lasting at least 8 hours.

Outages pose a threat to public health, the researchers noted, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning from improper generator use, anxiety and stress. They increase the risk of hypothermia and heatstroke and can contribute to food insecurity when refrigerators and freezers fail.

Outages are even riskier for those who use medical equipment that relies on electricity – oxygen concentrators, infusion pumps and mobility devices, for example. The battery life of oxygen concentrators on their lowest setting ranges from 3 to 4 hours.


Research shows a spike in emergency room visits from electronic medical device users during outages.

“It is crucial to recognize that the health effects of power outages likely vary across factors such as age, rurality and health care access,” Do said. “A long power outage may be particularly dangerous for an older adult living alone in a rural area during a severe storm.”


Maine is working on this issue. In 2022, lawmakers passed a law that requires utilities to submit plans to modernize the grid, including a first-in-the-nation requirement to say how they will prepare for a changing climate. The utilities filed plans to the Maine Public Utilities Commission in late December.

“With the climate getting warmer and wetter, there’s a tendency toward more weather extremes,” said Dan Burgess. director of the Governor’s Energy Office. “I think that’s what we need to begin planning for. We need to grapple with the changing climate and also the increasingly intense, frequent storms.”

Burgess recited a list of massive power outages that have hit Maine during an onslaught of bad winter storms: 450,000 Mainers out of power in December, some for as long as a week; 75,000 people lost power in the January storms; 200,000 lost power in March and 300,000 during this week’s storm.

“We’re experiencing these trends firsthand this winter,” Burgess said. “We are a large rural state, and also the most forested state in the nation. With weather like we’re having, we’re also seeing some of the biggest power outages we’ve had in a long time.”

Maine is using $2.5 million in federal grant dollars secured by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, to build solar and battery storage systems at public buildings in 10 rural cities and towns to boost energy resilience in extended outages, said Tony Ronzio of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation & the Future.

“With communities across Maine facing increasing challenges from climate-related impacts, such as flooding and damage from intense storms, developing systems and delivering investments to build resiliency to these impacts is a priority,” Ronzio said.

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