Proposed Emera Rate Hike Spurs Heated Comments

By Ruth Leubecker 

 

Emera Maine, which has built a substation to service island communities, has requested a rate hike likely to add $3.60 to the average electric bill.

The Bangor-based company has asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission to grant a 12 percent increase on its customers’ distribution rates. This could amount to an overall increase of 5 percent on all residential bills, which would mean a revenue increase of 12 percent to Emera Maine.

The company had previously sought a $7.4-million increase last year in an effort to gain reimbursement for its Acadia Substation, a facility designed to service Mt. Desert Island and adjacent island communities. The MPUC only allowed part of that request, ruling that statewide customers should not have to foot the bill for such a localized substation. Emera Maine has since  announced that because of that action, they have returned this year to request a hike in the distribution rate.

Even though official action on this request could be a year away, as this paper goes to press, 22 public comments have been received on the MPUC’s website. 

“Maine has some of the highest electric rates in the country, and energy prices are at an all-time low,” says Phillip Newell of Great Cranberry Isle. “Now is not the time to raise rates. This will also disproportionately affect the elderly and those on a fixed income.”

While this is only a portion of Newell’s comment, others run a broad spectrum, some concise, others very emotional.

Colin Brown from Pembroke described Emera Maine’s service “atrocious,” saying, “Over the past two weeks Emera Maine has been completely negligent in keeping constant power in Washington County. We’ve had consistent, sporadic outages throughout the county, and these have not been weather or accident related.”

A 75-year-old woman from Eastbrook is trying to live in her own home on $1,000 a month. A man from Orono voiced “my strong disagreement.” A man from Eagle Lake said, “Emera needs to tighten their belt and decrease spending.” And obviously incensed, a Southwest Harbor resident offered, “I’ve never received a 12 percent raise in my entire life.” 

With an eye to present-day realities, one respondent said, “Utility providers need to innovate and adapt to the changing environment, not ask for a bailout from their customers.”

Emera Maine, aware of its frequent rural outages, claims it needs the proposed increase to improve service to its customers. “We want to increase our reliability and resiliency to our customers,” says Judy Long, Emera corporate and media communications specialist. “That’s why we’ve asked for this rate increase. What we have ahead of us is a very open process, with 26 dates on the schedule between now and June 25.” 

Harry Lanphear, MPUC administrative director, welcomes all public comments. “We encourage public input, and we take all public feedback into consideration,” says Lanphear. “A decision will probably be made by next May or June. This will be a fully litigated case.”

Lanphear urges that others take this opportunity to register their comments by going to maine.gov/mpuc, then “online filing” and then “public.” Enter 2017-00198, and scroll down to enter a comment.

Lanphear concurs with Emera Maine that it tries to spread these costs to all its customers. “I believe all of these costs get approved that way,” he explains. “They get spread over all Emera’s customers. But we’re looking hard at the numbers. For anyone who wants to comment, this is a real opportunity to comment. Our commissioners look at these comments before they make a decision.”

However, according to Long, all costs are not always across the board. “We recently acquired the Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative,” she explained. “The people of Swan’s Island and Frenchboro agreed to paying $15 more (on their monthly bills) in order to cover their special needs.”

According to the MPUC, Central Maine Power has 629,000 customers in the state of Maine. Emera Maine, includes Bangor Hydro (128,000 customers), Maine Public District (38,000) and the Swan’s Island Cooperative. 

Emera Maine filed for its rate increase on Oct. 2. “There will probably be a public hearing. Generally in a large rate case like this, there is,” says Lanphear, who recalls last July’s public hearing in Bangor when only two people showed up.