BANGOR, Maine (WABI) – Versant Power customers could see price hikes of $10 or more a month next summer.
Gov. Janet Mills is calling on them not to file a rate request.
Company officials announced a few hours ago that they were seeking a distribution rate change.
“Maintaining and continuing to improve customer access to electricity in northern and eastern Maine,” he says.
The average residential customer will see an increase of about $10.50 per month.
Some of the things Versant wants to do are replace their metering system, repair deteriorating cables to customers on the island, and build a new substation in Machias.
While the improvements are important, Mills says the time comes at a time when rates are already high.
He says he will direct his energy office to call the Maine Public Utilities Commission to intervene in the opposition and reject the request.
The Maine Office of the Public Advocate released a statement Thursday expressing doubt that the 9% rate increase was justified.
He says the timing is unfortunate as miners are already struggling to pay high energy costs and rising cost of living.
They are looking for evidence that these rate hikes should not be passed on to ratepayers.
Statement from Versant Power:
After Versant Power carefully evaluates what we need to do to maintain and improve electricity access for customers in northern and eastern Maine, we will seek a change in distribution rates in the summer of 2023.
With a plan to use this money:
- Replace our metering system that has reached the end of its useful life
- Replace deteriorating cables that provide electricity to customers on islands off the coast of Maine
- Build a new substation in Macias, improve reliability and replace equipment near Bad Little Falls with a more environmentally friendly solution
- Continue our work to improve reliability in the Old Town/Orono area
- Install additional equipment in northern Maine to prevent tree-related outages and reduce the impact and duration of outages that do occur
- Make continued improvements to our tree trimming program to reduce the number of power outages and harden the system against hurricanes
- Invest in our technology, keeping customer and other sensitive data safe
- Retain quality employees in a competitive labor market
For the average residential customer using 500 kilowatt-hours per month, this change would mean an increase of about $10.50 per month. For customers using 750 kwh, this would result in an increase of $15 to $16, and for 1,000 kwh, an increase of about $21.
If this rate change is approved, Versant Power will still offer distribution rates and total average residential bills that are lower than comparable New England utilities.
Like all businesses, Versant Power is affected by price increases and labor market pressures. However, we continue to implement more sophisticated technology to inspect our equipment, reducing the cost of repairs, replacements and improvements as much as possible. Those technologies include drones as well as ultrasonic and acoustic assessments.
Versant Power is intentionally not seeking the opportunity to earn higher returns on investments as part of this request.
All Versant Power customers will receive a letter containing information on how they can be informed and involved in the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s evaluation of our request. The delivery rate change process will be subject to a nearly one-year review and will allow consumers and stakeholders to weigh in on the potential change. Versant Power expects a rigorous review of our request.
This request involves a change to the delivery rate, which is one of five rates that make up customer bills. Versant Power obtains approval from the Maine Public Utilities Commission or the Federal Regulatory Commission for any change to transmission or distribution rates that represent the cost of bringing electricity to your home or business.
Versant recognizes the importance of continued investment in the reliability and resilience of the power system as Maine moves toward greater electrification of its economy and integration of more renewable resources.
For more information about requesting, visit the Delivery Rate Request page on our website or connect with us on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.
Mills’ office released this statement:
Governor Janet Mills today announced her opposition to Vercent Power’s notice of intent to file for a rate increase. In its notice, the utility says it wants a $10.50 monthly increase, or about $126 a year, from the average residential ratepayer in its service area of Maine starting in the summer of 2023. Versant’s filing comes at a time of record-high electricity. The rates, and follow a filing earlier this year by Central Maine Power seeking a nine percent rate increase starting in 2023, which Governor Mills has also vowed to oppose.
“Improvements in our electricity system are an important part of maintaining a strong grid, but the timing of such improvements — and their associated costs — must be weighed against the high electricity prices Maine people, like people across New England, are already being asked to pay,” said Governor Janet Mills. “With higher prices expected to continue into the coming year – It depends on New England’s expensive, imported natural gas – I don’t believe this is the right time to get further rate increases for our utilities. I will ask Versant 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.
Maine’s transition to renewable energy to lower energy prices, as well as help Maine people and businesses combat rising electricity and fuel prices, are priorities of the Mills administration.
As a result of bipartisan legislation signed by Governor Mills in 2019, Maine has improved competitive renewable energy storage, resulting in 24 renewable energy projects to deliver low-cost, home-produced energy to Maine ratepayers.
Low-cost renewable energy from these three projects already in operation approved electricity rate cuts of 5.5 percent for CMP customers and 4 percent for Versant Power customers in June.
The Governor’s Energy Office estimates that if all 24 projects under this law are operating by 2022, Maine ratepayers could save 22 percent of electricity compared to the current standard offering.
On fuel costs, the Mills administration has taken several significant steps this year, including:
- returning more than half of the state’s budget surplus to the people of Maine through $850 inflation relief checks;
- pushing for more funding and expanded eligibility for federal heating assistance programs to help Maine families with oil bills this winter;
- securing a $90 one-time bill credit for tens of thousands of low-income customers of Central Mine Power and Versant;
- providing $800 in heating cost relief to nearly 13,000 low-income households to help pay for high energy costs;
- providing up to $1,400 in tax relief to eligible low- and moderate-income Maine families and seniors;
- Signing into law LD 2010, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, which makes available a tiered loan of up to $3,000 to Maine small businesses to offset electricity increases in standard offerings;
- Through his Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, Governor Mills invested $50 million in federal funds to expand energy efficiency programs for Maine homeowners and renters, hospitality businesses, and municipal and school buildings through Efficiency Maine.
The Governor and Legislature have strengthened accountability and oversight of Maine’s electric utilities. Governor Mills signed historic legislation this year to significantly reform the state’s approach to utility oversight. This legislation, LD 1959, sets minimum service standards for service, increases penalties for substandard service, and strengthens the accountability of utilities to protect the people of Maine.
The Maine Office of the Public Advocate released this statement:
The Maine Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) today questioned Versant Power’s 28% distribution rate increase. This translates to 9-10% of the total billed amount in the accommodation bill.
The company, which serves five Maine counties covered by Bangor Hydro and the Maine Public Power District, today filed a notice with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that it intends to request a 9 percent rate increase. Versant now has 60 days to make its formal request to the PUC.
“The timing of Versant’s proposed increase is unfortunate,” says Maine Public Advocate William Harwood. “Manors are already struggling to pay high energy costs, including a Jan. 1 increase in standard offer prices of more than 80%. Now, Versant is looking to increase the average residential bill by $10.50 a month.
OPA will evaluate Versant’s justification for its $30 million requested rate increase. Harwood says his office will look carefully at any evidence of discretionary spending that shouldn’t be passed on to ratepayers.
“Nearly 160,000 families served by Versant are already struggling with the burden of cost-of-living increases,” Harwood added. “The last thing they need is for their electricity bills to go up nine or five percent.”
Versant Power is owned by Enmax Corporation, a Canadian-based utility company.
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