January 19, 2018

Power companies’ tab for October storm costs exceeds $75M

Courtesy / CMP
Courtesy / CMP
Central Maine Power crews work to restore power during the Oct. 29-Nov. 1 storm that caused nearly 500,000 power outages throughout the state.

Preliminary reports submitted to the Maine Public Utilities Commission indicate Central Maine Power Co. spent almost $69 million and Emera Maine more than $7.3 million in their efforts to restore power to almost 500,000 customers after the October 2017 wind storm.

The reports, which are supplemented by extensive documentation by both utilities of their storm-related costs, are in response to the PUC's Dec. 19 notice initiating its investigation of the storm.

CMP stated the storm was "unprecedented in the number of customers impacted and the magnitude of the damage" across its entire service area, with more than 1,400 poles, 2,700 cross arms, 1,692 transformers and 270,000 feet of wire damaged in the storm.

"The vast majority of tree-related damage was from trees that were located outside of the maintenance clearance zone," CMP Vice President Eric Stinneford wrote in the introduction of CMP's report. "In many cases these were healthy trees that were uprooted by the high winds, conditions that were further amplified by significant remaining foliage and soil that was heavily saturated from several inches of rain."

CMP reported that 404,676 of its customers were without power at the peak of the storm (representing 65% of its customers) and that total outages throughout the course of the storm reached 467,246.

Emera Maine reported at the peak of the storm 90,000 of its customers were without power, representing more than half of its customers. "This was the highest peak outage count of any major storm in the last decade," Sarah Spruce, regulatory counsel for Emera Maine, wrote in the utility's Jan. 18 filing with the PUC.

Emera Maine reported that it had 690 workers involved in restoring power to affected customers at the peak of its restoration efforts.

Spruce indicated that Emera Maine would seek PUC approval to recover its storm-related costs from customers through future distribution rates, writing "$7.3 million represents approximately 10% of Emera's total operating costs ... [and] constitutes both unusual and sufficiently large costs as to cause undue financial hardship to Emera Maine if it is not permitted to recover them."

CMP's Stinneford, who also is the utility's treasurer, controller and clerk, told the PUC that CMP estimated it would be seeking to recover $27 million of its storm-related costs from customers through future distribution rates. Another $14 million, he wrote, would come from "an accumulated storm regulatory liability owed to customers that will help offset the amount needed for distribution rate recovery."

Finally, Stinneford said CMP expects cost reductions resulting from the federal 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act would "mitigate customer bill impacts" — as would the $2 million that CMP would absorb as its share of the storm costs.


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