By Judy Long
For those of us who grew up in eastern Maine, our concept of natural outdoor beauty is measured in the context of our experiences on Mount Desert Island. We are blessed to be able to enjoy this rugged landscape and be calmed and inspired by its breathtaking, windswept views.
This region is unique, and the people who live here must be creative and hardy. No one knows that better than the men and women who are called out during the very worst weather conditions to keep us safe and connected.
Versant Power’s corporate parent is a Calgary, Alberta-based company called ENMAX, but the individuals on our Hancock County line crew are the ones who get up in the night to make repairs if a motorist strikes a utility pole or high winds damage the electrical system.
Our customer service representatives in Greater Bangor and Presque Isle answer the phone if you call with a problem. The men and women who inspect the electrical system, check your meter and lead our work to interconnect renewable energy systems to the grid all live and work here in Maine. And the managers who make decisions about how we can continually and cost-effectively improve service also are fellow Mainers who care about the quality of the work they do.
Our region has specific challenges when it comes to ensuring safe, reliable, affordable electrical service. We live in the most forested state in the nation, with 90 percent of our land mass covered by trees. That’s why two out of three power outages are caused by falling trees or limbs.
Maine has the nation’s longest coast – longer than the state of California. Versant Power serves a swath of that coast, subject to some of the harshest weather conditions in the country, as well as a number of remote islands. We’re proud to employ Maine workers who know our electrical system, are familiar with the idiosyncrasies of this region and its wild weather and remain committed to meeting its challenges every day.
We’re also the most rural state in the nation. So when it comes to building and maintaining fixed infrastructure such as utility poles and wires, substations and other equipment, there are fewer residents among whom costs can be shared. That rural nature coupled with masses of ledge on the coast make it difficult and costly to bury lines underground.
There are many consumer-owned and municipal utilities that provide terrific service, including here in Maine. But allowing the government to take over Versant Power and hand off its management to another investor-owned utility will not change the landscape in which we operate. Furthermore, if you examine this proposal, you’ll see that it would put Mainers on the hook for billions of dollars in borrowing just to buy out these companies’ assets and doesn’t actually do anything to guarantee lower rates or better reliability.
Versant Power is eligible to earn a rate of return on its investments. But like any business, that return is not guaranteed, and does not mean we can or would ignore the importance of quality service. To demonstrate this commitment, our company set forth a new set of customer service and reliability metrics back in 2020 and agreed to be held accountable by our regulators if we don’t meet those metrics, including through implementation of financial penalties. Like any business, we know we must continually improve the standard of service we provide.
We also understand that the recent increase in electricity supply prices is a hardship for many, and customers are angry and upset. And although Versant Power is not allowed to own electricity generation plants, does not control supply price increases and does not benefit in any way from price changes involving those third-party electricity suppliers, we are working to try to help those who have trouble affording their bill.
We have partnered with state agencies to distribute additional aid to low-income customers. We are encouraging customers to sign up for budget billing, which levels your monthly payments by averaging the amount you pay and can help you avoid spikes in your bill caused by seasonal changes in your energy use. We are reminding customers that they can access tools to help you understand your energy use, including comparison to similar homes, bill forecast and tips on how to save energy through our Online Services.
The delivery of safe, reliable electricity is critical to the lives and livelihoods of Mainers, and an important part of our state’s transition to a brighter energy future. We’ve heard from our neighbors that reliable electrical service matters more now than ever, and we’re working to be a trusted partner in powering your possibilities.
Judy Long, a lifelong Mainer and Orrington resident, is Versant Power’s communications manager.