Utility crews work to restore power Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, on Main Street in Greenwood, Maine. Credit: Andree Kehn / Sun Journal via AP

Central Maine Power is seeking to recover costs from five major storms in 2020 in a move that will raise customers’ monthly bills starting July 1 if approved by state regulators.

The company asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission for a revenue increase of about $26.5 million to cover certain costs from five major storms from April through December of last year. Along with the storms, the company cited financial impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s other major electric utility, Versant Power, is seeking a similar increase in another manner. The two utilities have recently reduced other rates, but these requests for increases come at a time when Maine was rated as having among the worst outages in the country, and the U.S. as a whole is experiencing a record number of hurricanes, floods and wildfires that are amplified by climate change, according to national reports.

CMP’s requested increase in distribution delivery revenues is nearly 9.6 percent of the current rate, or a little less than $3 per month on average for customers, a company spokesperson confirmed. The distribution rate is one part of an electricity bill that covers the costs of delivering electricity to homes and businesses.

The requested rise is separate from a rate case. It is part of an annual report CMP submitted to reconcile various expenses, such as those from major storms, from the previous year, spokesperson Catharine Hartnett said. She said the request won’t be finalized for a few months.

Versant has not made a similar request to regulators as part of an annual filing. However, it does have a rate case before the commission in which it is asking for approval to raise its electric distribution rates by more than 25 percent by the end of next year, which would increase bills by $8 a month for the average residential customer. It wouldn’t go into effect before mid-October if it is approved, Versant spokesperson Judy Long said.

The costs of the October 2017 windstorm, which cut power to up to half a million Mainers for the better part of a week, were factored into the rate request, as were the costs related to four major storms in 2019 to 2020, Long said.

Customers and politicians continue to criticize CMP and Versant over their response to that windstorm, though CMP has gotten the most flak over inaccurate bills and customer service woes that ensued afterward. It is also working with Hydro-Quebec to build the controversial $1 billion corridor through western Maine.

Bills before the Legislature are also targeting the large utilities. Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, a utility critic who co-chairs the legislative committee overseeing them, has proposed separate bills that would replace CMP and Versant with a consumer-owned utility and prevent investor-owned transmission and distribution utilities from raising rates to cover costs incurred during a disaster such as a major storm.

The utilities, however, have been more proactive than in the past in cutting trees, deploying crews before a storm hits and adding technology that can more quickly isolate and locate problems for repair. The utilities commission is investigating possibly holding utilities to performance-based standards.

But CMP and Versant also have decreased certain rates. Last November both announced decreases in the supply portion of electric bills because the utilities commission was able to get lower standard offer prices, a default rate for those who do not buy electricity from a third party.

CMP home customers averaging 550 kilowatt hours of use monthly now pay just under $87 per month. That would increase by about $3 on the distribution side of the bill if the latest request is approved. CMP is asking that costs be stretched over three years to mitigate the effect on customers.

Those wishing to intervene in the case need to file a request with the regulator by Tuesday. The initial case is scheduled to be heard on April 7.

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...