AUGUSTA, Maine — A state watchdog desires regulators to withhold practically half of the $117 million that Central Maine Energy Co. has requested to cowl 2022 storm response prices, main the corporate to name the thought “outrageous and irresponsible.”
The showdown between Public Advocate William Harwood and the state’s largest utility will pressure the Maine Public Utilities Fee to delve deeply into the excessive prices of storm restoration. CMP has tried for years to rebuild its popularity after years of customer support woes, and a November referendum would change it and one other main utility with an elected board.
Maine ratepayers usually cowl storm response prices, however state legislation permits regulators to refuse to reimburse bills which might be deemed unreasonable or imprudent. Harwood’s workplace says that normal applies to $53.6 million in prices which might be largely the results of overstaffing. CMP retorted by saying the watchdog was seeking to penalize a immediate response.
The ratepayer advocate mentioned in a Wednesday submitting with the regulator that CMP exceeded staffing pointers in 12 of 23 storms that the utility desires to be reimbursed for, together with a winter storm that left a whole lot of hundreds with out energy in Maine simply earlier than Christmas.
CMP says it spent practically $58 million responding to that storm alone, and it retained 637 crews throughout the storm to take action. The per-customer price of that response was greater than ten instances increased than that of Versant Energy, the opposite dominant Maine utility with roughly one-fourth the variety of CMP’s prospects, famous Jesse Houck, an analyst for Harwood’s workplace.
However the utility shot again in an announcement saying energy restorations that took three days throughout that storm might have taken every week or extra if it adhered to the non-binding requirements, citing research that present low-income prospects are harmed most by longer outages. CMP additionally mentioned comparisons to Versant ignore elements together with inhabitants density and infrastructure.
The corporate stood by its response, saying the prices of a slower response would have been comparable over time. Harwood’s stance quantities to eager to “depart Mainers at midnight,” CMP mentioned, arguing that his workplace, politicians and the media would have famous any sluggish response.
“Confronted with one other federally declared catastrophe like Winter Storm Elliott, through which a whole lot of hundreds of Mainers have been with out energy over the Christmas vacation, our response would have been the identical each time,” CMP spokesperson Jon Breed mentioned in an announcement.
In an interview, Harwood mentioned it seems that there’s a mandate at CMP to spend closely to answer storms. Whereas prospects might be thankful for that for the time being, he mentioned it’s resulting in a state of affairs through which the cleanup payments will not be getting the general public consideration they deserve.
His purpose is for the utilities fee to take a extra lively position in figuring out a variety of prices in keeping with the severity of storms. If utilities have to exceed these limits, he mentioned they need to be capable of clarify why the prices are so important.
“On the finish of the day, what we wish is a few authorities steerage to CMP administration,” Harwood mentioned.
The dispute is a comparatively uncommon one between Harwood and CMP. The general public advocate is a longtime power legal professional who was an adviser to Gov. Janet Mills on that topic earlier than she appointed him to his present place in early 2022. Whereas Mills has criticized CMP at instances, she backed its unpopular hydropower hall and opposed a bid to take over CMP and Versant.
That prompted supporters of that effort, led by the political group Our Energy, to take the difficulty to the poll this 12 months. The mother and father of CMP and Versant have spent closely in opposition to Query 3. Harwood has not taken a place on the query, however he launched a truth sheet on the initiative this week that pointed to unknowns round reliability, buyer companies and local weather results.