Regulators approved millions of dollars in rate relief for Versant customers as part of the utility's acquisition by Canadian electric company ENMAX Corp. Credit: Courtesy of Versant Power

Maine’s electric utility regulator on Tuesday approved $8.1 million in rate relief to Versant Power customers as part of its $1.3 billion acquisition deal by Canadian utility ENMAX Corp. in March.

The rate decrease comes after Versant, formerly Emera Maine, raised rates by as much as double digits on its delivery and standard offer supply as of July 1. The rate relief was mandated under a statute enacted last year that required the commission to find a “net benefit” for consumers when a regulated utility is sold.

The three commissioners of the Maine Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved the payout, which will be distributed from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31. The average retail rate for customers in the Bangor Hydro District will decrease by about 14.92 percent and the Maine Public District by 13.43 percent, said commission Chairman Phil Bartlett.

An additional $5 million in rate relief for low-income customers will be considered at a future date, he said.

A typical residential customer using 500 kilowatt-hours-per month will see a decrease of more than $8 per month on their electricity bill, according to Versant. Commercial customers will see their distribution rate decrease at least 17 percent depending on the rate class. Industrial customers will receive a share of funds in the form of a one-time payment.

In a letter to the commission, Public Advocate Barry Hobbins said the relief was “the best remaining option,” but that he had hoped it would have come before the up to double-digit rate increase on July 1. Versant filed its final proposal for the rate relief about two weeks before the July increase.

“It provides substantial relief from the significant transmission rate increases that went into effect on July 1 at a time when many customers are struggling due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 public health crisis,” Hobbins wrote in his Aug. 4 letter.

The July rates meant a typical Bangor Hydro District resident using 500 kilowatt-hours-per month of electricity would pay $3.14 per month more, or 3 percent higher. A typical Maine Public District customer using the same amount of electricity would see an increase of $8.61 per month, or 12 percent more.

The Bangor Hydro District includes Hancock, Piscataquis and Washington counties and most of Penobscot County. Maine Public serves Aroostook County and a small piece of Penobscot County, according to the company’s website.

Customers of consumer-owned utilities Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative, Van Buren Electric Co. and Isle au Haut Electric Power customers would get the rate relief within one month of the commission approving its method for allocating the funds. Those utilities are interconnected with Versant.