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Finishing first a bad thing

By Portland Press Herald editorial board

It’s not always good to be first. In 2017, Maine led the nation in the number of times an average home loses its power. With more than three outages a year, a Maine consumer was in the dark more than twice as often as the national average of 1.4 instances.

The state also won 2017’s dubious gold medal for the length of time Mainers sat in the dark waiting for the lights to come back on. An average Maine customer was without power for 42 hours over the course of the year. The national average was 7.8 hours.

These figures come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which issues an annual reliability report. Maine’s dismal 2017 was no fluke. The state also finished first (or last, if you prefer) for the average number of outages and was among the worst states for the hours it took to restore service.

These numbers are of concern to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the agency that is reviewing requests for price increases by the state’s transmission utilities, Central Maine Power Co. and Emera (formerly known as Bangor Hydro).

The numbers also should be troubling to members of the Legislature because they raise questions about whether the regulatory regime for electricity is making matters worse. Currently, Maine’s power generators are unregulated, and they sell power onto the regional grid.

Transmission and distribution companies such as CMP are investor-owned utilities with monopoly coverage over regions. A customer’s electric bill has two parts: the cost of the electricity itself and cost of delivering it.

Maine has some challenges that make transmission difficult. It is the most heavily forested state in the country, among the most rural, and it has severe storms most winters.

Many of the long peninsulas along the rocky coast are served by a single line, and when it goes down, so do all the customers.

But Maine is not the only heavily forested, rural state in New England. And even though the number of outage incidents and the length of time without service are above average in both New Hampshire and Vermont, these states are far behind Maine in both categories.

Keeping the lights on shouldn’t be twice as hard on one bank of the Piscataqua River as it is on the other.

Maine officials should take a hard look at this data and determine if this is an area where the state doesn’t have to finish first.