Maine utilities won’t know costs of ice storm damage for several weeks

Posted Jan. 02, 2014, at 5:25 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 02, 2014, at 6 p.m.
Sunday's ice storm coated berries hanging on a bush along Pier Street in Bangor.
Sunday's ice storm coated berries hanging on a bush along Pier Street in Bangor.
Hanna Bonaiuto spreads salt on the sidewalk in front of Verve Burritos in downtown Bangor on Sunday morning.
Kevin Bennett
Hanna Bonaiuto spreads salt on the sidewalk in front of Verve Burritos in downtown Bangor on Sunday morning.

BANGOR, Maine — Officials with Maine’s electric utilities say it likely will be two weeks to a month before they get an accurate estimate of the costs associated with the year-end ice storm.

The storm knocked out power to tens of thousands of Mainers, and Emera Maine, formerly Bangor Hydro Electric Co., and Central Maine Power, along with hundreds of contracted crews from across New England and Canada, spent more than a week restoring service and cleaning up the mess.

Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for Emera Maine, said Thursday that she expects the costs to be “pretty significant,” but that the company probably wouldn’t have an accurate assessment of the damage for several weeks. Emera Maine should have an estimate for its own expenses related to the storm next week, but it will take longer to gather figures from the outside companies who assisted in restoring power.

Another storm hit Maine on Thursday and was expected to drop as much as a foot of snow in southern parts of the state.

“There are still lots of damaged trees out there that are going to keep falling,” Faloon said.

On Thursday, crews were continuing to work to cut back trees that threatened power lines in hopes of stemming outages from the coming snowstorm and any winds that might pop up this winter. The ice is still weighing heavy on trees, as the frigid temperatures haven’t let up.

“We’re poised,” CMP spokesman John Carroll said Thursday afternoon. He said the forecast was somewhat of a relief, as the snow should be dry, rather than heavy and cold.

“Dry snow doesn’t really cause a lot of problems for us,” he said.

If the damage costs from the ice storm are substantial enough, CMP and Emera Maine likely would go to the Public Utilities Commission to seek rate increases in order to cover the extra costs incurred during the response to the storm.

Carroll said that rate increases likely wouldn’t result in a substantial cost for most customers. If, for example, CMP sought to recover $5 million to pay for its response efforts, and received PUC approval, that money would be raised from CMP’s roughly 600,000 customers via an additional $8.33 each over the course of the year. If the cost is significant enough, the rate increase plan could be spread out over the course of two or three years instead of one. Emera Maine would go through much the same process with the PUC.

Faloon said Emera Maine crews are prepared to be called to action if Thursday night’s storm leads to new outages.

“We’re barely catching our breath, and we’ve got this other storm looming,” she said.

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