Maine PUC Approves AMI System at CMP; 141 Jobs Will Be Lost – Many IBEW 1837 Members

February 1, 2010 - The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will be issuing an order for Central Maine Power Company to move forward with their Smart Grid Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) initiative. The PUC held deliberations on the AMI case on February 1, and all three commissioners agreed that CMP had done a good job at working toward and achieving 50% of the funding for their proposed system through a federal stimulus grant. The commissioners believe that the system will produce benefits for customers that will outweigh the costs. The installation of so-called “smart meters” will lead to steep job cuts at CMP.

The Commissioners acknowledged that the installation of the system will create a long road for the affected employees. They said they appreciated the testimony from the public hearing on January 20 and that the testimony raised several concerns regarding the effects of the system on employees. Commissioner Cashman strongly urged that CMP negotiate with the Union over those effects. Commissioner Vafiades and Chairperson Reishus agreed that CMP should give fair treatment to the employees and also have a reporting requirement to submit a workforce reduction plan to the Commission prior to any plan taking place. Assistant Business Manager Bill Dunn scheduled negotiations with CMP on February 19 to discuss the impact on employees.

With the snow falling and the state police reducing the speed limit to 45 mph on Maine’s highways, over 40 IBEW members from CMP had travelled to Hallowell to attend that PUC public hearing on January 20.

Media coverage of the issue was intense throughout the state. Two Portland television stations provided live reports from the PUC hearing. Detailed stories also ran on Maine Public Radio, in the Kennebec Journal, the Associated Press, and numerous Internet reports were provided on energy industry websites.

Commissioners heard testimony from a total of four witnesses at the public hearing, all of whom expressed opposition to the project. CMP gave no public comment at the hearing.

“CMP plans to install AMI funded in part by $96 million in federal stimulus money meant to help our struggling economy,” said George Dugovic, a former worker at Rochester Gas and Electric and a member of the Interfaith Labor Committee. “Their plan would then lay off 141 of their workers. This is unethical since an alternative is appropriate.”

IBEW Chief Steward Dick Rogers spoke out against the cost for customers and the loss of valued workers during power restoration. “AMI may have a time and place. I just don’t think with this kind of price tag that time is now for CMP ratepayers – especially with the recession we’re seeing in this state and across the country,” said Brother Rogers.

“Without the meter readers and service journey workers, the time to restore power will be much longer and it will put the safety of the public in greater danger,” Rogers continued while detailing the many services provided by these valued workers, from the guarding of downed power lines after a storm to looking for signs of trouble at the homes of customers.

Assistant Business Manager Bill Dunn has been working with the PUC on the AMI issue for some time and provided detailed testimony about the negative impacts not only on our members, but on CMP’s customers.

“In summary, the increased rates, potentially higher cost from rehiring employees or paying overtime to replace damaged higher cost meters, no monthly safety inspections for property owners and CMP service equipment, longer major storm restoration time, and higher state expenses for unemployment and benefits all add up to one conclusion,” said Brother Dunn.“This AMI system is a bad idea for the taxpayers of the State of Maine and the ratepayers of Central Maine Power Company.”

Two days later on January 22, Brother Dunn was back at the PUC for a final hearing that was closed to the public. That hearing was CMP’s final opportunity to convince the commissioners that their plan is in the best interests of their ratepayers. It was also the interveners’ final opportunity – both IBEW Local 1837 and the Office of Public Advocate along with the commissioners themselves – to ask direct questions about the CMP’s final plan. At the end of the hearing, all parties had an opportunity to give final oral arguments for, or against, the case. The Office of Public Advocate gave an argument that was against the AMI system. They noted that many other utilities that have had problems with similar systems. They pointed to the degradation of service during major storm restoration efforts. They warned of the potential of catastrophic failure of such a system and what that may mean to ratepayers, in poorer service, future higher costs, and issues of cyber-security with the hacking of similar systems.

In the end, as compelling as the testimony against this AMI System may have been, Maine’s PUC opted to move it forward. IBEW 1837 will continue to make every effort to make the best of what is a bad situation for many of our members at CMP.