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Versant Power seeks to increase monthly rates for customers

If approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the rate increase would take effect next summer.

MAINE, USA — Versant Power customers may see their monthly bills go up as soon as next summer. The utility company announced Thursday it is seeking a distribution rate change from the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

According to a press release, the average customer using 500 kilowatt-hours (kwh) per month would increase their bill about $10.50 per month. Customers using 750 kwh would see a $15 to $16 increase, and for 1,000 kwh an increase of about $21.

Judy Long is the communications manager for Versant Power.

"We understand that customers do not want to see rising electricity bills, and frankly, it's the last thing that we want to ask. But it would be irresponsible of us to stop investing in a system that so many Mainers rely on," Long said.

Long says the written request will be submitted to the Maine Public Utilities Commission in the next two months.

"There's no fat on this request. It's just what's needed to continue to provide the service that Mainers deserve," Long said. 

Long says Versant plans to use the additional money to complete a number of projects in the five counties it serves in northern and eastern Maine: Hancock, Piscataquis, Washington, Penobscot, and Aroostook. Some of those projects include replacing its metering system and any worn cables, and building a new substation in Machias.

But in an economy where the price of just about everything is going up, many aren't convinced there's a need, like the Maine Office of the Public Advocate

"A 28% increase is a large increase for any business to charge it's customers," William Harwood, public advocate for the state of Maine, said.

Harwood said his office will hire experts to review the data Versant files with the PUC.

"We will be taking a very aggressive approach to make sure that this increase is justified. We're pretty skeptical at this point," Harwood said.

Gov. Janet Mills also announced her opposition to the request Thursday. Mills released a statement, saying in part, "With high prices expected to continue into the coming year – which is almost entirely the result of New England’s dependence on expensive, imported natural gas – I do not believe now is the appropriate time for our utilities to seek further rate increases. I ask Versant to not to file this request, but, if they do, I will direct my Energy Office to intervene in opposition and call on the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reject the request.”

"Versant Power is not asking for an opportunity to earn a greater return on our investments, we deliberately did not ask that because we understand the environment we're working in," Long said.

Harwood said last fall, Versant was granted an 18 percent increase in rates, and now asking for more, is hard to rationalize.

"I haven't seen any inflation numbers that would suggest to me that those kinds of increases are in line with inflation," Harwood said.

"We completely open our books, we show them every project, everything that we're spending money on, to show them what is needed," Long said.

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