December 31, 2013

Ice storm could cost Maine energy customers

Power companies can seek to recoup costs if the Christmas-week storm is deemed an ‘extraordinary weather event.’

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

This year’s Christmas week ice storm could be deemed an “extraordinary storm event,” which would allow Maine electric utilities to seek a rate increase to offset the millions of dollars spent on recovery efforts.

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Heavy snow adds to weight of the ice on trees in Hancock County as a car drives along Route 179 in Fletcher’s Landing Township northeast of Ellsworth on Monday. Utility companies have not yet tallied the costs of the repairs.

Michael C. York/Special to the Press Herald

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“Generally, if the storm meets the criteria, then we would seek to recover those expenses at the appropriate time,” said Gail Rice, spokeswoman for Central Maine Power Co. The storm damage would be factored into the utility’s overall price change filing, she said.

Neither CMP nor Bangor Hydro Electric Co. has yet tallied the expenses associated with the ice storm, which knocked out power to 160,000 Maine homes and businesses.

“Certainly that possibility exists if the storm damage is as bad as we think it is,” said Bob Potts, a spokesman for Bangor Hydro. “It’s just too soon to tell. ... A lot of it will come down to the final number.”

CMP said Monday that almost all of its customers would have power restored by the end of the day, with the exception of a cluster in the Lincoln County town of Jefferson that “looks like a war zone,” according to Rice. A total of 396 customers were still without power Tuesday morning.

Bangor Hydro’s service area took a direct hit from the Dec. 22-23 ice storm, with 40,000 homes and businesses losing power – more than a third of its customers. That’s one reason the utility says some homes won’t have power back until New Year’s Day.

“We want to keep folks informed about realistic expectations,” said Potts. “It’s going to get bitterly cold. ... If someone has been without power for some time, we want to make sure they take advantage of the emergency shelters available, or call a neighbor, friend or family members.

“For the most part, people are pretty savvy. If you live in Maine, this is kind of par for the course,” he said.

Bangor Hydro reported that 185 of its customers were without power Tuesday morning.

Temperatures were forecast to drop down to 5 degrees Monday night and hit zero degrees Wednesday night along the coast and even colder in central Maine, with Augusta likely to hit minus-7.

Down East areas including Hancock County were hit hard by the ice storm and the foul weather that followed, but by late Monday the Red Cross had closed the last of its six emergency shelters for storm victims.

The shelters saw a total of 255 overnight stays and served 1,600 meals and snacks. Nearly 60 Mainers spent Christmas shelters, the agency said.

“Normally I’d be hanging around Walmart to stay warm,” said Alan Stanley, a homeless veteran who had been sleeping in his car before moving to a shelter at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School. “Maine people are quite resilient, but being around the Red Cross has been a godsend. ... They’re here to help.”

Heavy, wet snow fell Sunday night, adding to the burden of ice and snow already on the trees and lines. That snapped more branches and sent outage numbers back up.

More snow may hit Thursday and Friday, unless the system veers east and out to sea, according to the National Weather Service.

The series of destructive storms in quick succession is part of a weather pattern that has taken over the region, funneling storms up the East Coast.

“Sometimes we get in a pattern like this, where once a week you end up getting a storm,” said Mike Kistner of the National Weather Service office in Gray. “Sometimes it takes something really big instead of these fast-movers to break up the pattern.”

Most of the outside crews who came to Maine to help with repairs returned home over the weekend, although Bangor Hydro still has crews from its sister utility in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

(Continued on page 2)

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