When all 2,500 customers of Madison Electric Works lost power in the pre-dawn hours of Christmas morning 2019 due to a substation transformer failure, a dozen Central Maine Power employees put aside holiday plans and responded to a call for assistance by hauling a multi-ton mobile substation from the company’s North Augusta Service Center to Madison, where CMP substation technicians from Fairfield installed it.
It is still there, powering all Madison Electric Works customers.
While a recent letter to the editor (“Consumer-owned utility shows worth,” April 16) observed how quickly Madison Electric Works customers had their power back after the last storm, one should consider the source of that power.
CMP is more than willing to loan the equipment to commercial customers and others with major power needs as repairs or upgrades take place. Because CMP invests in the equipment needed for infrastructure maintenance and system improvement, we can flexibly meet residential, commercial and local municipal power needs.
Storms occur frequently in Maine, and when they do, CMP responds with our own team, and in the most recent storm, with more than 600 additional line crews and tree crews to get power back on in Maine. During the holiday weekend storm, we also assisted Madison crews in restoring power in their territory.
There are those in the state that like to compare the cost of electricity between consumer-owned utilities and investor-owned utilities, particularly in the middle of storm recovery, and who allege that investor-owned utilities make more money by “neglecting prevention and focusing on big new transmission projects instead” and that they have “inadequate local staffing,” as the letter implies. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If CMP had as many lineworkers per customer to cover 11,000 square miles of territory as Madison Electric Works does to cover 186 square miles, we would need to hire 1,500 additional lineworkers and raise our residential rates by about 20%. Our customers would rightfully revolt against such inefficiency.
CMP has invested approximately $3.5 billion into system improvements over the past 10 years, with CMP’s shareholders reinvesting more money into infrastructure improvements than they have received in dividends from the company’s earnings. The company is actively replacing aging poles with stronger, larger poles, replacing bare conductor wire with more resistant “tree wire,” and increasing automation across the system. We upgrade substations and invest in equipment needed to provide power in the event of system failures.
Investment is driven by different factors such as the federal policies and standards designed to ensure reliability across the New England grid — a recent example is the Maine Power Reliability Program. Completed in 2015, this was a transmission project that was developed consistent with these federal standards, specifically to make improvements in the Maine transmission network to ensure reliable power delivery to CMP customers, including our wholesale customers like Madison Electric Works.
Investment is also needed to facilitate the major network changes necessary to achieve the New England region’s climate change and carbon reduction policies. As Maine and the other New England states diligently pursue such climate change policies, it will be imperative to pursue all available solutions, including small-scale distributed renewable generation, as well as larger, grid-scale generation sources such as Canadian hydropower, and both land-based and off-shore wind generation
When the power goes out because of a storm, CMP, like any electric utility in Maine, is focused on safely and quickly restoring power to families and businesses. Employees from across the company leave their families behind to get the lights back on. From the lineworkers scheduled around the clock, often in brutal weather, to those employees who arrange meals and lodging for out-of-state support crews, the company doesn’t stop until the last customer is restored.
The response has nothing to do with whether a utility is privately owned or owned by consumers, the drive is to assist other companies as needed to restore power to all Mainers as quickly and safely as possible.
David Flanagan is executive chairman of Central Maine Power. Doug Herling is president and CEO of Central Maine Power.