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Mainers to see electric rate hikes continue for 2023

The Maine Public Utilities Commission accepted the first bids for power producers for 2023, adding an estimated $24 to the average Versant customer's monthly bill.

HALLOWELL, Maine — Mainers will see another increase in their electric bills next year, in a move the state had expected for months.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission met for 10 minutes Tuesday, accepting bids from undisclosed power suppliers that will send electricity to Versant customers in its Bangor Hydro District, which covers some of the most inhabited parts of eastern and northern Maine. 

In Maine, electric utilities are not allowed to also generate power. That was a result of deregulation in the late 1990s. Most electric bills come from Central Maine Power or Versant, but only half of the monthly payment is for those companies that deliver the power. 

The rest goes to whichever company the customer has chosen to supply their electricity. For most people, it’s the standard offer, negotiated annually by the PUC.

The commission predicted the average customer’s total monthly bill would increase 20.7 percent, or around $24, beginning January 1, 2023; with the supply portion increasing around 40 percent.

Commission Chair Phil Bartlett said the increase is due to continued fossil fuel market instability, particularly natural gas.

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"In New England, about half of the electricity produced in the region is with natural gas. And, so, particularly during peak periods, natural gas is driving the price of electricity. In the long term, I think the investments the state is making in renewable energy will continue to pay off.

Weary Mainers have heard this explanation before. 

In November of 2021, the PUC blamed volatile fossil fuel markets for an 80 percent supply charge increase. 

Bartlett said, while this move is unwanted and harmful to Mainers, Maine currently offers cheaper power than every New England state except Connecticut.

"Our hope is, next year, we’ll see some relief, but there’s no guarantee of that," he added.

Bill Harwood is the state’s public advocate, and said leaders should have invested in renewable energy earlier.

"Yes, of course, it could have been worse," Harwood said. "But, I think, also, we as state officials have a responsibility to change where we can make changes to avoid this happening again."

And what about all the Mainers who bought electric heat pumps after the state encouraged and incentivized them over the previous year? Mainers bought them with the promise of reducing fossil fuel dependence and stabilizing their bills. In a cruel irony, they will have to face this rate hike after being told they were making the right choice for their planet as well as their wallet.

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Still, despite higher power bills on the way, Bartlett said buying a heat pump is still the right move for Mainers.

"While their electric bill will go up, to the extent that they no longer have oil bills or other forms of heating, they still should be better off," Bartlett argued.

The commission was scheduled to return Wednesday, expected to raise rates for other Versant customers and those of CMP.

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