Power outages in the remote Somerset County town of Jackman have increased over the last five years, but the problem isn’t as bad as some residents have made it out to be, according to Central Maine Power.

From 2013 to 2017, the number of power outages on the two circuits serving Jackman increased from 51 outages in 2013 to 62 in 2017 — a 21 percent increase, according to a document recently filed by CMP with the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

That outpaces a roughly 1 percent increase across CMP’s entire service area in the same time frame, though CMP is urging the PUC to not investigate a complaint by residents in Jackman about declining service.

The company said this week the increase is likely due to rain, wind or snow causing tree limbs to fall on power lines, and that the problem is not as bad as it has been portrayed by a group of residents who earlier this month filed a complaint with the PUC urging it to investigate lengthy outages and unreliable service from CMP.

The complaint, filed Dec. 13 by a group of residents led by Darien Sawyer, a local reverend, said CMP outages are “putting elderly citizens, shut-ins and families of young children at risk during cold weather.”

And while a handful of residents have stepped forward with stories about poor service from CMP, the group also acknowledged in another letter this week that their claim of a 275 percent increase in outages is based on the experience of just four customers, though they are working to gather more comprehensive data.

The group stated that outages increased from four in 2013 to 11 in 2017 — an actual increase of 175 percent — for the four customers.

A collective 13 hours of power was lost in 2013 versus a collective 58.8 hours in 2017, though that year included a historic October wind storm that cut off power to more than 300,000 CMP customers.

The Somerset County town of about 860 people is about 20 miles from the Canadian border and on the fringes of the utility’s coverage area.

“On multiple occasions, CMP employees have answered our complaints with statements about how far away we are from their grid and how few customers there are to offset investment in what’s needed,” Sawyer wrote in a response to CMP’s request the PUC dismiss the complaint. “The bottom line is that CMP sees dollar signs attached to resolving the issues.”

The company in its response acknowledged there are challenges to serving the Jackman area because of its remoteness, but also took issue with some of the claims made by the group.

The increase in outages in Jackman is larger than what CMP saw statewide in the same five-year timeframe, over which CMP spokeswoman Catherine Hartnett said there was only about a 1 percent increase in outages. A possible explanation for the increase in Jackman is the number of trees, she said.

“The same wind storm does potentially more damage in Jackman because there are more trees and that will affect the number of power outages,” she said.

CMP, meanwhile, wrote that Jackman continues to be served from Harris Station, as it has for over 50 years, and the company is adequately staffed and equipped.

It would be time-consuming and difficult for the company to provide backup electricity through Canada, CMP said, and providing backup through the town of Rockwood, also a remote community at the end of a long distribution line, would be subject to similar challenges and may not provide any benefit.

Finally, the company also stated it is working on long-term plans to improve service in the area, including the possibility of installing a generator to feed Jackman.

The complaint comes about 20 years after the commission ruled in 1996 that CMP’s service to the Jackman region was “unreasonable and inadequate” and required the company to file a long-term plan to improve quality of service in the area.

In its recent response, CMP wrote the company has complied with the order by completing line clearance work; inspecting distribution lines; installing technological improvements; adding a full-time worker to the local Jackman-based crew to bring it up to two full-time workers; and placing a two-man floating crew in the area when weather-related problems are likely.

“We take our commitment to all our customers seriously and we are committed to providing reliable service,” Hartnett said. “We also take accuracy seriously. We hold our service accountable and so does the PUC. We want to make sure we are all using the same data and measuring the same things.”

The PUC will be reviewing the information and a decision on whether they will be investigating is expected later this month, according to PUC Administrative Director Harry Lanphear.

The complaint also comes on the heels of CMP’s controversial plan to build a 145-mile transmission line from Quebec to Massachusetts, including through Somerset County.

While the line would not pass through Jackman, residents voted 78-11 against the project in a special town meeting in November on grounds the line would damage the environment, scenic views and tourism economy of the area.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.