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Ad in 'New Mexican' praises Maine utility's parent Avangrid, urges support for PNM merger

  • Dec 1, 2021
The Santa Fe New Mexican

Dec. 1—Differing views of an electric utility company's service in Maine have clashed in an unlikely place — more than 2,000 miles to the southwest, in New Mexico.

Central Maine Power's service reliability is alternately praised and derided, depending on one's view of whether Public Service Company of New Mexico should merge with Central Maine's parent company, Avangrid of Connecticut. Central Maine Power also has supporters and antagonists in Maine.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is mulling a hearing examiner's harsh review of the merger proposal, with a decision expected this month. The hearing examiner, Ashley Schannauer, generally has recommended the commission veto the merger proposal, although he cited certain conditions the commission should implement if it decides to support the merger.

One view of Central Maine Power's performance appeared Tuesday in a full-page advertisement in The New Mexican. The Avangrid ad, signed by four Maine business and energy leaders, accused a Santa Fe organization, New Energy Economy, of "weaving a tale" about Central Maine Power.

The ad extols Central Maine Power as "reliable and forward-thinking" and Avangrid as possessing "vision, leadership and financial strength" and "world-class renewable energy strategies."

As for New Energy Economy and its leader, Mariel Nanasi, they have engaged in falsehood, the ad says. "Don't fall for it."

Nanasi responded with an email message that called Avangrid and its parent company, Iberdrola of Spain, "bullies with tons of money to spare." Nanasi opposes the merger, but numerous community and environmental organizations this year have gradually thrown their support to the plan.

In his role as a neutral, quasi-judge, Schannauer's report says Central Maine Power has experienced a variety of problems. They include:

u Maine Gov. Janet Mills this year called Central Maine's service "abysmal."

u The Maine Legislature this year recommended a public referendum be held to try to replace Central Maine with a nonprofit utility company. Mills vetoed the notion.

u J.D. Power's 2020 study ranked Central Maine 128th of 128 investor-owned electric utilities in residential customer satisfaction.

u Central Maine's rollout of a new billing system four years ago prompted the Maine Public Utilities Commission to say it hadn't seen "complaints against a utility reach the numbers they have here," a consulting firm wrote this year.

Maine voters last month also opposed a Central Maine Power transmission corridor being built in part through a forest in that state. The project evidently has been halted for now.

Avangrid executive Robert Kump said through a written message Tuesday that the J.D. Power survey reflected billing problems that have "long since been resolved. In fact, all Maine Public Utility Commission customer service quality required levels have been met and exceeded for the past 18 months."

Kump said objective criteria measure service interruptions by duration and frequency. Compared to similar utilities throughout the Northeast United States, Kump said, Central Maine's performance compares well.

The ad says Avangrid — apparently referring to Central Maine Power — "dramatically outperforms all of its peer utilities in Maine."

But William Dunn, a 73-year-old electric power consultant in Maine, told a legislative committee in Maine this year that "even in New England, Maine stood out for its poor reliability in 2019 with more than twice as many minutes of outages as the next highest state, Vermont."

In an email Tuesday, Dunn wrote "I would be embarrassed to have my name associated with that ad." He said in Maine, there are only two comparatively large, investor-owned utilities, Central Maine and Versant, so the ad writers played "fast and fancy with their wording" about peer utility companies. Most other utilities in the state are small and run by municipalities, he said.

An Avangrid spokeswoman later sent numerous charts that show Central Maine outperformed Versant from 2014 through 2019.

Lincoln Jeffers, one of the Maine leaders who signed the ad, said Central Maine Power is committed to clean energy and good service. Jeffers, the economic and community development director in Lewiston, Maine, said Central Maine invested $1 billion or more in improving its energy grid in the state and enhancing substations in his city several years ago.

"And they were very responsive to citizen concerns," Jeffers said. "I worked closely with the leadership of Central Maine Power."

He said he didn't put much stock in the J.P. Power survey because "other industry criteria rank them [Central Maine] well."

From his vantage point, he said, what Central Maine Power seeks to do in his state is "absolutely fabulous."


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