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More than 70,000 Mainers remained without power as of late afternoon Friday, following Thursday’s windstorm that cut power to more than 200,000 at its peak. Both utilities have warned that some customers will remain without power through the weekend.
By Saturday, 29,455 CMP and 2,542 Emera customers are without power. Central Maine Power Co. reported about 69,000 customers without power as of late Friday afternoon, while Emera Maine reported that about 5,000 customers still lacked electricity. At the peak of the storm on Thursday, 180,000 CMP customers and 40,000 Emera Maine customers had lost power.
“Our focus yesterday was making sure the roads are open so that emergency vehicles could travel around,” CMP President and CEO Doug Herling said at a news conference Friday. “We did some restoration, obviously because the number has dropped. Today you’re going to see the numbers drop even more.”
It will be Monday before some customers in Cumberland, Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties see their lights turn back on, CMP announced late Friday. Sunday is the expected restoration time for CMP customers still without power in Franklin, Knox, Oxford, Penobscot and Waldo counties. Customers in York, Kennebec, Somerset and Androscoggin counties can expect their power back on Saturday, the company said.
“Yesterday it was apparent to us that the coastal counties from York to Knox County had suffered a tremendous amount of damage and it was going to be several days before we could get power to some of the customers there,” Herling said.
CMP has 100 of its own crews, 450 contracted crews and 120 tree crews working on restoration efforts, the company said. That represents an increase from the number of crews — 313 total in- and out-of-state crews — that dealt with the 2017 storm.
In CMP’s service area — which covers southern and western Maine and up the coast beyond Belfast — crews identified 110 broken electricity poles.
“Sometimes, when tree limbs fall down, it’s a very quick restoration,” Herling said. “But when a tree comes down and breaks a pole it’s a much longer process.”
Emera Maine customers in Washington and Hancock counties — the hardest-hit areas of that utility’s service area — can expect to have crews working over the weekend to restore power. Hundreds of customers each on Mount Desert Island and the Blue Hill Peninsula continued without power Friday.
Emera released a list of towns where about 100 crews are working to restore power. Penobscot and Piscataquis counties were not as severely affected; customers who lost power there could expect to have it back by Friday night, according to spokeswoman Judy Long.
Emera’s outage numbers have fluctuated since the storm, and they even increased between 9 and 11 a.m. on Friday. This can happen, Long said, either because customers are calling in with previously unreported outages, or repair crews are discovering more outages than previously estimated as they fix lines.
Both Emera and CMP said they have made upgrades to their networks since the October 2017 windstorm that cut power to more than double the number of customers who lost power at the peak of Thursday’s windstorm.
This year, Emera installed fault indicators — which are small flashing lights — on transmission lines to help pinpoint the exact location of the fault in the line. Emera has also installed reclosers, which are circuit breakers attached to distribution poles that can limit the impact of an outage to a certain section of the line.
“Those improvements and investments, we’ve noticed, have been paying dividends as we do our storm response,” Long said. Emera had restored power to about 85 percent of those who lacked it following the storm by late afternoon Friday.
CMP has invested $320 million in the past year on upgrades including stronger poles and more durable wire, according to Herling.
“We’re identifying stronger, bigger poles, we’re using heavier wire and we’re using devices out there that allow the power to be disconnected and impact a smaller number of customers than what may have traditionally happened,” he said.
Maine had more frequent power outages than any other state in the U.S., and Maine residents spent more time in the dark than residents in every other state, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As a Calgary, Alberta-based ENMAX looks to acquire Emera Maine, concerns about the Maine network’s reliability have come up as regulators consider whether to approve the sale. A utilities consultant hired by the state’s Office of the Public Advocate said recently in testimony that Emera has had an “extremely low level of performance in avoiding customer interruptions,” and has not appeared to make improving reliability a priority.