SWANS ISLAND — This winter, for the first time in a long time, residents here had to power through outages that lasted as long as three days.
It’s a result of a change that happened last April, when the Swans Island Electric Cooperative transferred its electrical distribution system to Emera Maine.
Without a full-time crew on the island, the level of service may be “inconvenient, but no one was surprised,” according to Jeffrey Ellison, the former manager of the coop.
“We’re kind of on the end of the to-do list being way out here.”
But residents here seem to be pleased with the transition, especially because it reduced electricity costs on the island by as much as 50 percent, Ellison said.
Many island residents are putting their savings toward generators, said Selectman Jason Joyce. He has had to fetch Emera crews on his own boat at times for them to be able to restore outages.
“Considering the amount of consumers we have, they’re giving us very good coverage,” he said.
The number of consumers also is what pushed the island to make the transition.
“It’s hard to maintain a co-op on a small island,” said Karen Griffin, the co-op’s former billing manager, who now works as the town’s administrative assistant to the Board of Selectmen.
Operating the independent enterprise for a small group of people produced rates that were too high, Ellison explained, “which is why we decided the merger was best.”
The transition process was difficult, though. The co-op had to update many of its customer records to meet the bureaucratic standards of a large corporation like Emera. The town also had to put about 250 more easements on poles and wires before the merger.
But the hardest part of the transition for Ellison was “seeing all the employees we had lose their jobs.” The co-op had four full-time staffers and a few more part-time workers, like the groundmen who worked on the lines. Ellison said most of them, like Griffin, were able to secure other jobs. Others were very close to retirement.
The town wanted to keep its lineman to help with outages, but according to Ellison, he didn’t meet Emera’s certification standards.
Ellison said that Emera is yet to implement some improvements that were agreed upon at the time of the merger. It’s supposed to develop a fusing plan that would limit the areas that would lose power in case of an outage. It also has to install another set of leak closures that would burn the fuses closer to the outage and keep the rest of the island running.
The island has had a good relationship with Emera even before the merger, according to Ellison.
Joyce said he’s “optimistic that things are going well and that they’re going to get better.”