The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted on Tuesday to strengthen the standards it uses to measure the performance of two investor-owned electric distribution utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant Power.
The commission amended an existing rule that sets standards for service performance, including frequency and duration of power outages, storm restoration, call center responsiveness, billing errors and customer satisfaction .
The amended rule also requires utilities to report to customers and the PUC on these performance measures via a report card, starting next year.
Maine previously had performance standards in place for general quality of service for CMP and Versant, but the changes make those standards both broader and more specific. Smaller state consumer-owned utilities are exempt from the new requirements.
The purpose of the amended rule is to require improvements in key areas of customer service. Maine’s investor-owned utilities have come under fire in recent years for their performance, and their shortcomings have spawned a campaign to take them over and form a statewide consumer-owned distribution company.
“This procedure is the first but not the last of its kind designed to provide binding performance standards,” said PUC Chairman Philip Bartlett. “Our work in this important area will continue to ensure that these new standards help improve the performance of public services.”
The action follows a public hearing and comments from interested parties last spring.
Consumer advocates called for more accountability to ensure utilities focus on customer service, while power companies said the new standards and penalties were unnecessary because their service and responsibility have recently improved.
The PUC action complements a Public Service Accountability Act championed by Governor Janet Mills that was later passed in the last Parliament. The new law imposes penalties for poor performance, strengthens protections for whistleblowers who report illegal or inappropriate behavior on the part of a utility, authorizes the PUC to audit utility financial information, and requires utilities to submit regular plans to address the impact of climate change on their infrastructure. .
Details of the PUC’s order are expected to be filed on its website Wednesday.