Ron Francoeur, a lineman with Central Maine Power, works on lines on Turbats Creek Road in Kennebunkport, where a utility pole snapped in half after a tree came down on wires in a pre-Christmas storm in 2022. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine’s advocate for utility customers wants state regulators to claw back more than $50 million that it says Central Maine Power Co. overspent because it exceeded staffing guidelines when restoring electricity to ratepayers during a dozen storms in 2022.

But the utility says that money was spent on out-of-state crews necessary to restore power to customers more quickly and avoid the kind of criticism that has contributed to a November referendum calling for a state-operated utility.

The Office of the Public Advocate filed testimony Wednesday with the Public Utilities Commission that accuses CMP of overspending on staffing in 12 of 23 storms the utility responded to last year.

The advocate is trying to block CMP’s effort to recover $53.6 million of more than $125 million that the company claims it spent restoring electricity to ratepayers during the 2022 storms.

Jesse Houck, an economic analyst with the advocate’s office, found that CMP failed to follow staffing guidelines in its Emergency Response Plan when managing storm costs in 2022 and “imprudently incurred” excessive storm costs that should not be recovered from ratepayers.

“I do not lightly reach these conclusions, as I assume that the motivation for this excessive spending was to more quickly restore service,” Houck said in his written testimony. “However, that is no excuse for excessive spending. Regardless of the motive, ratepayers should not have to pay for imprudently incurred utility expenditures.”


About $10 million in storm recovery costs were included as usual in CMP’s electricity distribution base rates. In June, the PUC allowed an additional $117 million in storm costs to be collected through rate increases that went into effect July 1 and will cost ratepayers $1 to $1.50 per month for two years.

But the commission also allowed the advocate to further examine whether the additional storm costs were “prudently incurred,” Houck said.

The advocate’s findings shocked CMP officials, who noted that the bulk of the rejected costs – $45 million – are attributed to the recovery from Winter Storm Elliott, on Dec. 23-24, 2022.

Declared a federal disaster, the blustery, bone-chilling storm knocked out power to more than 300,000 customers statewide and left 100,000 without electricity on Christmas Eve.

CMP spokesman Jon Breed called the advocate’s findings outrageous and irresponsible, saying that they show a lack of understanding of customers’ increasing power needs, especially older and low-income Mainers who are especially at risk during power outages.

“If we had followed the guidelines as the advocate suggests, the outage would have been significantly longer and Mainers would have been sitting in the dark for seven to 10 days, possibly even longer,” Breed said.


For the Dec. 23-24 storm, CMP brought in 637 out-of-state crews and incurred $57.9 million in additional storm costs, Houck said in his testimony. The added help allowed the utility to restore power in three days, 13 hours, rather than the five to seven days allowed for the most serious storms under the company’s response plan, he said.

Further breaking down the bill for outside crews, Houck said it cost $14.28 per customer hour of service interruption to restore electricity that Christmas Eve. A storm on Dec. 16, 2022, was even more costly by this measurement, he said. At that time CMP hired 540 crews for $31.8 million, which cost more than $52 per customer hour of service interruption.

He compared CMP’s responses in 2022 to two similar storms in 2020 – April 9 and Dec. 5 – when the utility hired 402 and 352 outside crews, respectively, at a cost of about $24 million each. Power was restored in five days for the April 9 storm and four days for the Dec. 5 storm. The cost per customer hour of service interruption was just $4.90 for both storms.

Houck noted that the 2020 storms were more costly than usual because CMP was operating under COVID-19 protocols, so it had to rent additional trucks and hotel rooms to implement social distancing requirements.

Houck said CMP also hired an excessive number of out-of-state pole digger crews for many storms in 2022, based on the actual number of poles replaced for each storm.  For a storm on Jan. 17, the utility brought in 39 pole digger crews but only replaced 18 poles. Overall, the number of pole digger crews exceeded the number of poles replaced for all but two storms, he said.

“I recognize that for affected customers, any delay in restoration of service can be a burden,” Houck said. “However, storm restoration is a balance between restoring power quickly on the one hand and cost on the other. By hiring excessive external contractors to restore power to customers as fast as possible, CMP has incurred much greater storm costs than it otherwise would have had the company used the staffing levels and restoration timelines in its (response plan).”


Breed disputed Houck’s data, saying it lacks detail and context. He also questioned comparing 2022 costs to 2020, before inflation drove up costs for nearly everything.

Moreover, Breed said, Houck’s analysis doesn’t take into account that for major weather events, damage recovery costs are relatively constant when it comes to staffing.

“Whether it takes 400 crews two days to restore power, 200 crews four days, or 100 crews eight days, there would have been virtually no cost difference,” Breed said. “The only difference is that our customers must suffer the economic and cost consequences of being without power for longer.”

Breed said he could only imagine the backlash CMP would have experienced if the utility had adhered strictly to its emergency response guidelines and provided customers with the suggested seven-day recovery estimate for severe storms.

“There is no question we would have faced intense scrutiny from elected officials, the media, and (public advocate) Bill Harwood himself as to why we had not secured more resources sooner,” Breed said.

Faced with another federally declared disaster like Winter Storm Elliott, he said, “our response would be the same every time.”

It could take months for the PUC to resolve this dispute, he said.

CMP, which serves roughly 640,000 customers in central and southern Maine, is the focus of a November referendum that asks voters to approve taking over the assets of CMP and Versant Power and forming a public distribution utility called Pine Tree Power.

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