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CMP, public advocate settle differences over 2022 storm restoration costs

Line workers repair downed power lines during the April 4 nor'easter.
Central Maine Power
Line workers repair downed power lines during the April 4 nor'easter.

Central Maine Power and the public advocate's office have agreed to a settlement that will slightly reduce the storm recovery costs that ratepayers will have to incur.

CMP had initially asked state regulators to be reimbursed $117 million over two years for its efforts to restore power after multiple storms in 2022.

The settlement agreement reduces costs to ratepayers by $850,000. The reduction is modest, Brian Marshall, a senior counsel for the Office of the Public Advocate, acknowledged. The 2022 storm costs will be incorporated in ratepayer bills next January.

"They will see a slightly smaller increase than they would have, had the full $117 million gone into rates," Marshall said. "But we're the first to admit that that's going to be relatively small; you're talking about cents on each customer's bill."

But Marshall said the agreement includes several stipulations that he believes may eventually benefit ratepayers in the long run. The utility, for example, agreed to update its emergency response plan, improve its invoices and secure rates for outside contractors before hiring them to assist with outage restoration efforts in Maine.

The utility will also work with the public advocate's office on a plan that recognizes that more frequent and intense storms due to climate change are becoming the "new normal" in Maine, Marshall added.

"CMP has agreed to work with our office — and we plan on hiring a consultant for this purpose — to identify ways to prevent these storm outages in the future and see if there are some ways where CMP can cost effectively invest in its systems to prevent the outages in the first place, rather than just addressing them on the backend after the outages occur," he said.

In a statement, CMP denied that it overspent on 2022 power restoration efforts but agreed that the planning work it intends to complete with the public advocate's office should eventually improve the resiliency of the electrical grid.

"There are many parts of this agreement that are beneficial to our customers as well as for Maine as a whole, and CMP is looking forward to implementing them upon approval of the Maine Public Utilities Commission," the utility said in a statement. "The tenets in this agreement will allow us to build upon actions we are already taking to harden Maine’s grid for the climate-change driven storms in years to come."

The settlement only finalizes restoration costs that CMP incurred from storms in 2022. The utility is seeking reimbursement for another $162 million from multiple storms last year, and CMP has yet to file a recovery request for costs incurred during the January storms.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission is expected to approve the agreement Tuesday.