“I believe ratepayers in Aroostook County are going to see a modest increase.”

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 11:22 AM EDT
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Electricity Rates for the Maine Public District were raised significantly at the beginning of the year, nearly doubling the cost of electricity from last year. The Maine Public Utilities Commission recently announced a decrease in electricity rates starting July 1st, but is it too good to be true? Brian Bouchard investigates and has the story.

“Every summer there’s what’s called a stranded cost filing where we look at truing up some numbers with the utilities. Part of that is consideration of the renewable energy contracts that we’ve entered into.” - Philip Bartlett – Chairman, Maine Public Utilities Commission

According to Maine Law, Stranded Costs are defined as a utility’s legitimate, verifiable and unmitigable costs made unrecoverable as a result of the restructuring of the electric industry. In other words, the costs of maintenance, storm damage and more may be recovered by Stranded Costs, if approved by the Public Utilities Commission. Originally, Versant customers were looking at an increase in stranded costs, meaning an increase in electricity rates. Causes ranged from the $90 dollar credit ratepayers received earlier this year, to a depreciation of assets. However, on June 14th, the Public Utilities Commission announced the approval of a delivery rate decrease of 3.5%, which they attribute to a boom in renewable energy production.

“The energy ends up being sold into the wholesale market, and so what we’re seeing now with electricity prices being very high those renewable energy contracts that we’ve entered into over the years are producing quite a bit of revenue and that’s allowing us to offset other costs and ultimately lead to a reduction of energy bills beginning July 1st.” says Bartlett.

WAGM reached out to Versant Power, seeking comment on the announced 3.5% decrease, and received the following response.

“I am aware that the Maine Public Utilities Commission announced an upcoming rate decrease in light of the approval of a lower stranded cost rate. However, Versant Power customers in the Maine Public District also will see changes to the conservation rate and transmission rate effective July 1, and we are still evaluating the total impact of those three changes (including stranded costs).”

When this statement was shared with Philip Bartlett, Chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, in order to gain some clarity regarding Versant’s statement, he was unable to say how the changes to Conservation and Transmission Rates would affect Aroostook County.

“I would have to go back and look, I’m not sure what the specific numbers are there, but I think the reality is there are a lot of moving parts to the delivery rates that we pay, and as we do these stranded cost adjustments there are things that are going up and down. So I don’t have any update in respect to those specific numbers but our assessment based on the stranded cost filing and the stipulation we just approved we expect that will provide some rate relief.”

William Harwood, Public Advocate for the State of Maine’s response to Versant’s statement. He says the ratemaking process is complicated.

“We have these various different buckets of different rate and in some cases the rates are set in by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington rather than the PUC in Augusta. What is happening is that for the Maine Public District of Versant there is going to be a rate increase, and I think its an overall, the transmission rates are going up and the conservation piece is going up and when you net it all out. I believe ratepayers in Aroostook County are going to see a modest increase.” says Harwood.

Regardless of whether electricity ratepayers see an increase or a decrease come July 1st. Versant Power has submitted a change to their transmission rates with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and representatives from Versant will be hosting their Annual Transmission Update “Customer Meeting” on Tuesday, June 28th at 9 AM in the Katahdin Room at the Hampton Inn in Presque Isle.

Brian Bouchard, NewsSource8

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