The parent company of Central Maine Power is proposing a $2.5 billion effort to "harden" its electricity distribution systems in Maine and New York, following major storms and outages over the past year — and the company would like to have consumers to pay some or all of the bill.
Avangrid Inc. says storms are increasing in frequency and intensity, as it learned in Maine's October 2017 windstorm, which left hundreds of thousands of customers in the dark for days.
Michael West, an Avangrid spokesperson, says the company is responding with a 10-year program to improve the system's resiliency.
"So we've looked at our system and started to identify some patterns that we are seeing and, as a result of that, we started to do a deeper analysis to try to come up with a plan that will allow us to be more responsive to some of the unpredictable weather that we're getting and more frequent cycles."
As much as 80 percent of the damage in Maine, he says, was caused by contact between trees and electrical wires, and the new plan will aggressively pursue new methods to avert that contact, including installation of new poles, insulating wires that might contact trees, and more tree-trimming both in and outside of the company's right of way.
"Instead of continuing to rebuild the same infrastructure, how can we do things a bit differently?” says West. “That's the reason you see this approach, so whether it be tree wire, whether it be circuits that need to be underground, whether it be shortening the length of circuits, and particularly in Maine we should do that, so that's part of what this whole plan includes."
One consumer watchdog says the plan looks pretty good.
"This is unprecedented for me to say something this favorable about CMP,” says Gordon Weill, a retired energy consultant who formerly served as the state’s public advocate. “I have never in my life been able to praise them this much.
"The probability of a line going out is greatly reduced by some of the suggestions they make. Putting in new poles makes sense, insulated, supported wire, tree wire, makes a great deal of sense. And then the use of microgrids or batteries on circuits makes a huge amount of sense as well."
Avangrid says it will seek to recover some or all of the costs of the project from its customers, subject to approval by regulators in Maine and New York. It has yet to break down exact costs it expects in each state and whether it would invest in improving the automated metering system it has installed in Maine, a system the state's current public advocate says performed poorly in the October storm.
Maine regulators continue to examine CMP and Emera's response to the October wind storm.