PORTLAND, Maine — Companies selling electricity directly to consumers have retained more than one in six Maine households as customers this year, despite charging generally higher prices.
Retail electricity suppliers, or “competitive electricity providers,” retained about 17 percent of all Maine customers through October. That’s in line with April figures, even as those suppliers continued to charge introductory prices at par or higher than the standard offer rate set by state regulators, updated reports from the Maine Public Utilities Commission show.
While retail suppliers stemmed further declines, their market share for residential and small commercial customers has dropped from a peak of almost 30 percent in the summer of 2013, according to figures from the Maine PUC.
The drop in market share came as their prices began to rise, eventually costing their customers an estimated $50 million they did not need to spend on electricity from 2012 to 2015, according to a Bangor Daily News investigation For the average household, using 550 kilowatt-hours of power per month, that equals about $230 more per year.
A deregulation law passed in 2000 fractured utility monopolies, leaving the utilities to manage only the wires and poles transmitting and distributing power. The move created a competitive market for power generation, though suppliers selling directly to customers focused almost entirely on large commercial and industrial customers until 2012.
The largest retail suppliers in the state through 2015 were Electricity Maine, the Crius Energy Trust subsidiary FairPoint Energy, Clearview Electric, Ambit Energy, XOOM Energy Maine and C.N. Brown Electricity. Each reported to federal regulators that they supplied more than 1,000 residential customers in 2015.
The latest data shows a one-month spike in retail supply customers in August, tied to more small commercial customers signing on in Central Maine Power Co.’s territory for that month, according to detailed data from the utility.
Many more customers in Central Maine Power’s service territory have stuck with a retail supplier — primarily Electricity Maine — than in the other two utility service areas. Through October, they retained about one in five customers in CMP’s territory, compared with less than 9 percent in Emera Maine’s Bangor Hydro District and slightly more than 1 percent in its Maine Public Service District, serving Aroostook County and parts of Washington County.
Current pricing data compiled by the Maine Office of the Public Advocate show only one of nine providers offering a price near the standard offer, which in January will drop slightly for customers in Emera Maine’s Bangor Hydro District and rise slightly for Central Maine Power Co. customers.
The standard offer rate available to all customers will drop to 6.32 cents per kilowatt-hour for Emera Maine’s Bangor Hydro customers in January. The price for CMP customers will rise to 6.69 cents per kilowatt-hour.