- A new energy law in Maine requires electric utilities to undertake an “integrated grid planning” process every five years, and for those plans to support the state's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, relative to 1990 levels. Gov. Janet Mills, D, signed L.D. 1959 on May 2.
- The law requires utilities to develop multiple demand forecasts, consider the locational value of distributed resources, and analyze grid constraints that have slowed Maine's ability to interconnect more renewables. In addition, utilities Central Maine Power and Versant Power could face penalties for failing to meet service standards set by state regulators.
- Neither utility supported the new law, but each says it is committed to providing reliable electric service. Both of Maine's investor-owned utilities fared poorly in a national customer service survey last year.
Central Maine Power, which delivers electricity to most of the state, was ranked last in the 2021 J.D. Power national customer satisfaction survey. Versant fared slightly better, but ranked last in the region for mid-sized utilities.
“Maine’s utilities have been just rock bottom, in terms of their performance, over the past several years,” according to Jack Shapiro, climate and clean energy program director for Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The new law directs the Maine Public Utilities Commission to set minimum service standards and says the commission “shall impose an administrative penalty on a transmission and distribution utility in an amount that does not exceed $1,000,000 or 10% of its annual gross revenue” for failing to meet those standards.
“There's a real appetite for really trying to hold utilities accountable for delivering the basic services that people expect,” Shapiro said.
Versant in a statement said it expects to be held to high standards and is “up to the challenge of meeting service metrics” aligned with customer needs and state policy.
The utility added, “however, we think it’s important to ensure those service metrics represent what’s actually important to our customers and we’re able to meet those metrics while keeping service affordable for our customers.”
Central Maine Power has “always been held accountable to performance expectations and rate plans by the Maine Public Utilities Commission,” the utility said in a statement, adding that it will “continue to focus on doing the planning and work needed to build and maintain the grid, while meeting daily customer needs for service and reporting on our performance.”
While the bill includes accountability provisions, its larger focus is on grid planning. Integrated grid planning "has been a priority for a number of years," said Shapiro, and was recommended in the state's climate action plan finalized in December 2020. A facilitated stakeholder process on grid modernization also recommended a holistic approach to grid planning.
An integrated approach to grid planning could help grow the state's community solar program. Central Maine Power has faced criticism over delayed interconnection studies, and in January agreed to a settlement that included hiring contractors to help speed the process.
Maine passed a community solar bill in 2019 but while customers signed up, they aren't seeing any savings because "those projects aren't being interconnected," said Shapiro. "And they've been pushing a lot of [interconnection] costs to developers."
The new law directs utilities to develop a range of grid scenarios every five years, including the potential for high growth in electrification, high distributed energy penetration, and policies and investments needed to facilitate the energy transition. The PUC can then take that analysis and use it in rate cases or other proceedings "to help draw this all under one strategic plan," said Shapiro.
For Maine, that is the Climate Action Plan, which has interim goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030, relative to 1990 levels. Requiring utility integrated planning processes to help achieve state goals is unique, said Shapiro.
"We think we're the only state that has done this," he said. "We believe that this is really going to have a positive impact on the overall cost of our grid transition."