Maine lawmakers to weigh in on reducing power outages
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- The Maine Legislature plans to consider aggressive tree cutting, underground power lines and other measures in response to a storm that left some homes and businesses in the dark for up to 10 days.
The Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology will review proposals that could've reduced the number and duration of power outages when lawmakers reconvene in the new year, Democratic Rep. Seth Berry, co-chairman of the panel, told WGME-TV.
The proposals run the gamut, including expanded tree trimming, burying more power lines, using rubberized power lines and even encouraging more rooftop solar, he said.
At the peak, more than half of Maine's residents were in the dark after a powerful storm blew down thousands of trees and toppled power lines. It took more than a week for utility crews to restore power to nearly 500,000 homes and businesses.
A spokesman for the state's largest utility, Central Maine Power, said it took crews half the time to restore power than during the 1998 ice storm when there were fewer outages.
"We think that's a solid reflection on the job we did. It was done quickly, efficiently and, most importantly, safely," spokesman John Carroll said Monday.
The Public Utilities Commission launched hearings after the 1998 ice storm. The regulatory panel plans to analyze utility filings after the latest storm before determining how best to proceed, said Harry Lamphear, the commission's administrative director.
Central Maine Power stepped up tree cutting after the ice storm and again in 2008 after the so-called Patriot's Day Storm, and crews now trim trees on a five-year cycle, Carroll said. That means crews trim trees along 5,000 miles of CMP's power lines each year, he said.
CMP can change the requirements for trimming and bury more lines, but ratepayers may balk at aggressive trimming and added costs, Carroll said.
"We support things that can make the system more resistant to weather. I'm just trying to point out that there are practical limitations," he said.
CMP believes the Maine Public Utilities Commission, not the Legislature, is best suited to tackle regulations related to utility infrastructure, Carroll said.
But Berry said it's important for lawmakers to explore the response to the storm.
"Going forward, we can expect more frequent storms and storms of greater intensity because of climate change," Berry said. "CMP needs to work with the Legislature to develop a more resilient grid and withstand these kinds of storms."
This story has been corrected to show the spelling of the lawmaker's last name is Berry, not Barry.