Maine moves closer to shielding electricity customers from sticker shock

Posted April 10, 2017, at 11:39 a.m.
Last modified May 08, 2017, at 4:17 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine House and Senate will soon vote whether to enact new consumer protections for Maine electricity customers, in response to a Bangor Daily News investigation that found residential customers have paid millions more than they needed to.

The Legislature’s energy committee has recommended passage of a bill changing requirements around re-enrolling customers and termination fees.

Currently, companies called competitive electricity providers can re-enroll a customer in a contract as long as they provide two written notices, which can be by email.

The new proposal, LD 803, requires the company also to provide that notice via the U.S. Postal Service. It also would require a positive response from customers if the new plan would raise their power rate by 20 percent or more.

At current rates, a 20 percent rate increase would amount to about $6 a month for the average Maine electricity customer. The limit relates only to contracts set for fixed terms. It does not deal with variable rate contracts, which can change freely from month to month.

Separately, the bill would prohibit a company from charging a termination fee for re-enrollments done without specific consent from the customer.

The proposal follows a Bangor Daily News investigation that found those customers would have saved about $50 million from 2012 to 2015, had they remained on the state’s default rate. In 2015, the average difference in price amounted to $229 a year for the average household.

[ Mainers spent $50 million they didn’t need to on electricity]

Those electricity suppliers are different from utilities that deliver electricity, such as Central Maine Power Co. or Emera Maine. They market and sell electricity supply directly to customers, to get them to switch from the default rate state regulators set each year.

“These rules would put Maine on the leading edge across the country in terms of consumer protections,” said Tim Schneider, the state’s public advocate.

In a commentary, Schneider wrote regulators should study the costs of the competitive electricity market for residential and small business customers. If they haven’t seen savings, he wrote, “Maine should end the retail competition experiment for these customers.”

The bill also calls for the state’s public utilities commission to study the difference in price residential customers would have paid if they took the standard offer price between 2014 and 2016. The bill calls for the PUC to report back to lawmakers by March 1, 2018.

The proposal was a compromise between multiple bills, including one that would have prevented competitive providers from charging more than the current standard offer price.

Two companies that said they’re eyeing the residential market in Maine, but have not yet entered, opposed that measure, saying it would stifle their ability to offer new types of plans, including those that vary the price by time or day or offer renewable power.

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