MAINE, USA — On Jan. 1, the electricity bills of Mainers increased. The Maine Public Utilities Commission said in 2021, the average home using a total of 500 kilowatt-hours per month would see an increase of about $30.
The advertised $30 increase is what Central Maine Power, Versant, and the Maine PUC said the average Mainer would see.
But that's an average, and in the winter months, many homes tend to use more than 500 KWH, which is why some bills have increased by much more than that.
A lot of Mainers asked why that is. Laurie McDaniels of Union asked NEWS CENTER Maine about the rate increase.
She wrote, "Please break down the recent CMP rate hike. When the utility commission approved a rate increase, it was stated that the average increase would be $30 a month. Many people have seen their monthly bill increase by 50%."
Here's how it all works out. The typical Maine electric bill is broken down into two parts, delivery, and supply. The supply rate is controlled by the Maine Public Utility Commission, not CMP or Versant Power.
"We review and select the best deal for consumers," Phil Bartlett, Maine PUC chair, said.
He said this year's best deal for consumers was an 83-percent increase for CMP customers and a close to 89-percent increase for Versant Power.
Bartlett said it's natural gas that's driving prices up.
"About half of the electricity used here is produced with natural gas. And more importantly, natural gas and other fossil fuels are really driving the price during the cold winter months," Bartlett said.
Bartlett also told NEWS CENTER Maine over the last few years, natural gas prices have been pretty low. But with supply chain issues, that's changed.
He said the estimated $30 increase was an average estimate for a home that uses about 500 KWH, not a solid number for every household.
The timing of this rate hike in the dead of winter is what is coming as a shock to many people.
"It's a time of year when you already are seeing higher electricity prices, and that's been compounded by the increase in the supply price," Judy Long, Versant Power spokesperson, said.
As for delivery prices, both Versant and Central Maine Power's rates have increased within the last year. CMP increased by 11.5% in July 2021, and Versant increased by more than 17% in November 2021.
Long added, these increases don't happen all the time.
"That was our first distribution rate increase in more than three years," she said.
Bartlett said for people who heat with electricity using things like heat pumps or baseboard heating, their bill will likely double, even for those who aren't using forced heat.
"Oil prices and other fossil prices have gone up as well, so no matter how you're heating your home this winter, you're paying a lot more. And it's a struggle, and we recognize that," Bartlett said.
On Wednesday, Gov. Mills' office announced a plan to help Mainers with these electricity bills. If the plan is approved, it will give low-income households a one-time $90 credit to help with the increase in electric bills Mainers are seeing.