Jul. 26—The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted Tuesday to beef up standards it uses to measure the performance of the state's two investor-owned electric distribution utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant Power.
The commission amended an existing rule that sets standards for service performance, including power outage frequency and duration, storm restoration, call-center responsiveness, billing errors and customer satisfaction.
The amended rule also requires the utilities to report to customers and to the PUC on these performance metrics via a report card, beginning next year.
Maine already had performance standards in place for general service quality for CMP and Versant, but the changes make those standards both broader and more specific. The state's smaller, consumer-owned utilities are exempt from the new requirements.
The goal of the amended rule is to require improvements in key areas of customer service. Maine's investor-owned utilities have been under fire in recent years for their performance and their shortcomings have spawned a campaign to take them over and form a statewide consumer-owned distribution company.
"This proceeding is the first but not the last of its kind designed to provide binding performance standards," said Philip Bartlett, the PUC's chair. "Our work in this important area will be ongoing to ensure that these new standards help improve utility performance."
The action follows a public hearing and comments by interested parties last spring.
Consumer advocates called for more accountability to ensure the utilities focus on customer service, while power companies said the new standards and penalties weren't necessary because their service and accountability have improved recently.
The PUC's action complements a utility accountability law championed by Gov. Janet Mills that subsequently passed in the last Legislature. The new law imposes penalties for poor performance, adds more protection for whistleblowers who report illegal or improper behavior by a utility, authorizes the PUC to audit utilities' financial information and requires utilities to submit regular plans to address the impact of climate change on their infrastructure.
Details of the PUC's order are expected to be filed on its website Wednesday.
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