FILE - Maine Hydropower Transmission

Heavy machinery is used to clear an existing Central Maine Power electricity corridor that has been widened to make way for new utility poles, April 26, 2021, near Bingham, Maine. 

(The Center Square) – Maine regulators have adopted new performance standards for the state’s largest utilities amid criticism over poor service and reliability.

The standards, approved by the state's Public Utility Commission on Tuesday, will require the state’s two investor-owned electric distribution utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant Power, to meet performance benchmarks to reduce power outages, resolve billing errors and improve customer satisfaction, among other issues.

Once state regulators set new performance metrics, which are expected to be in place by next year, the utilities will be required to report quarterly to state PUC on how they are meeting those goals and provide an annual "report card" to customers outlining their progress.

"This is important to provide transparency and, hopefully, better inform customers about their utility service," PUC chairman Philip Bartlett said during Tuesday's hearing.

He acknowledged there was criticism during public comment period on the proposed rules with some pushing for tougher service requirements on utility companies.

"It's important to remember that this rulemaking is the first, not the last effort, to develop binding performance standards," Bartlett said. "Our work in this important area will be ongoing to ensure that these new standards help improve utility performance."

A bill signed into law in May by Gov. Janet Mills calls for setting "minimum standards of service" that utilities must deliver for Maine ratepayers. It gives state regulators the authority to crack down on utilities that don't meet these standards by imposing harsher penalties, including forcing the public sale of the utility for inadequate service.

Mills filed the legislation after vetoing a bipartisan bill that would have put a question on the November ballot asking voters to approve the creation of the Pine Tree Power Company by taking over the sprawling distribution and service areas of Central Maine Power Company and Versant Power.

Supporters of that proposal had argued a nonprofit, consumer-owned utility would deliver clean, reliable electricity at a lower cost and with local control over the operations. They cited poor service by CMP and Versant as a primary reason for the proposed changes.

Despite her opposition, Mills acknowledged that service by the state's two largest utilities has been "abysmal" and vowed to push for tougher performance standards.