Auburn firm cracks Inc. magazine’s top 10 ‘fastest-growing’ firms list

Posted Aug. 20, 2014, at 12:45 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 20, 2014, at 3:29 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — An Auburn-based competitive electricity company has landed in the top 10 of Inc. magazine’s list of the country’s fastest-growing companies, ranked by revenue.

In hard numbers, Electricity Maine parent company Provider Power’s revenue jumped to $137.9 million in 2013, up from $690,697 in 2010. It was ranked sixth nationally for revenue growth.

“It’s a very exciting time for us,” said Provider Power co-owner Emile Clavet in a telephone interview Wednesday. The company employs about 60 people, up from its two to three employees at its founding in 2009.

It is expanding competitive electricity service to Massachusetts this year after expanding to New Hampshire in 2013. The company has about 200,000 customers across its service area, most of which are in Maine.

The company topped the list for revenue growth in the energy sector of the Inc. list and led the group of Maine companies making the cut in the magazine’s latest rankings, which highlights early-stage companies in a period of expansion.

Three other Maine companies made it into the top 1,000 of the national Inc. list, including Portland-based gift card processor CashStar, Portland-based online veterinary pharmacy company Vets First Choice and Lewiston-based Argo Marketing Group.

This year’s list is a new mix of familiar names. Vets First Choice was the highest-ranked Maine company on the list two years ago, at 25th. It was ranked at 798 in the 2014 list. CashStar, which was 104 in the list two years ago, ranked 600th in the list this year.

Electricity Maine was one of the first to enter the residential competitive electricity market in Maine, an area opened by deregulation of Maine’s electricity markets in 2000.

Deregulation meant transmission companies such as Emera or Central Maine Power had to sell off any power generation resources they owned. Power generators then bid in a daily auction to supply the next day’s demand on the regional grid.

Competitive providers for residential customers have been on the rise in recent years and in 2013 supplied power to about one-third of residential customers in the state.

Clavet said being the first to dive into the residential market for competitive energy supply came with early challenges, but development of the information technology systems to manage its transactions with power generators and Maine utilities gives it a competitive advantage because the mix of systems each utility uses is unique to different states.

“The IT required to enter into a new state takes months to prepare,” Clavet said.

Electricity Maine operates as a broker, buying power from generators in the region and selling it to customers through the transmission and distribution systems owned by Emera, CMP and others. It started in 2009 by beating out the standard offer rate, a three-year average power price set by state regulators to avoid volatility in the power markets.

Clavet had stated in media reports near the time of the firm’s founding that it would always beat the standard offer price, but those plans soured last winter when prices from power generators shot up.

Amid that leap in prices, the company was the subject of two informal inquiries from state regulators, one over its automatic re-enrollment of customers after notifying them of the price increase and another over ads suggesting lower prices than the standard offer.

“If we have a winter that’s more normal this winter, costs will go back down,” Clavet said.

Its plans charge more than the standard offer, and the company focuses its marketing on being a local company that supports area nonprofits through its “Power to Change” program.

Clavet did not say whether the company would eventually return to prices lower than the standard offer, but he said he expects the standard offer price to become less relevant as state regulators consider changes to how power is priced. He said his company anticipates a future with a power pricing scheme in which factors such as the time of day that electricity is consumed are included in the price.

“The real exciting part of what’s going on is the $100 million that state has spent in bringing smart meters to the residents of Maine,” Clavet said. “We aren’t using that information yet.”

That information would allow changes in price based on grid-demand — that is, consumers could pay less to run household appliances at night or on weekends, when power demand on the grid is lower.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission is considering alternative pricing methods in a rate case that was split off from Central Maine Power’s latest rate proposal.

To see all the Maine companies that made Inc. magazine’s 2014 ‘fastest growing’ companies list, visit www.inc.com/inc5000/list/2014.

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