A Central Maine Power smart meter. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Most Central Maine Power Co. residential and business customers will have to pay 83 percent higher electricity bills in 2022, the result of rapidly escalating prices for the natural gas that powers New England’s energy grid, a state regulatory agency said Wednesday.

The sharp increase in the electricity supply rates, announced by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, resulted from the agency’s competitive bidding process for standard offer prices, a default rate for those who do not buy electricity from a third party. An electricity bill includes two components, electricity supply and delivery. The electricity supply rate is set by the competitive bidding process required by Maine law, not by the electric companies.

The agency said the rates reflect the almost 95 percent increase in natural gas prices from October 2020 through October 2021. The natural gas prices drive the cost of electricity.

The rate increases, which start Jan. 1 and run through 2022, come as this winter promises to be an expensive one for Mainers, who also are contending with heating fuel prices that could be anywhere from 30 percent to 59 percent higher, according to the federal winter fuels outlook estimates. Three in five Maine households use fuel oil as their primary heat source, more than any other state.

Volatile global energy markets are driving the higher energy prices, Dan Burgess, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, said. New England is over-reliant on natural gas to power its electrical grid and on oil to heat homes, which is why Maine is moving toward breaking its dependence on fossil fuels, he said.

“The electricity supply in Maine is not regulated but is procured through the competitive marketplace,” Philip Bartlett, chairman of the utilities commission, said during its meeting to announce the rate hike. “In some years like the last two we benefited from market conditions resulting in lower prices. But unfortunately this year, the reverse has been true.”

The CMP rate news comes one day after the regulator announced an 89 percent increase in the standard offer for Versant Power customers that also came out to a hike of about $30 per month in the average residential bill. That amounts to a total bill of about $126 per month. Versant, formerly Emera Maine, serves about 159,000 customers in northern and eastern Maine.

CMP has about 630,000 customers in central and southern Maine. The standard offer price accounts for approximately 50 percent of sales in CMP’s service area and about 40 percent of customer bills. Some 90 percent of residential customers use the standard offer.

“We will continue to pursue solutions to help Maine people with increasing energy prices rising this winter,” Burgess said.

Help for heating and utility bills is available now on the Governor’s Energy Office website and on the utilities commission’s website.

CMP also lists programs to help with bills on its website and tools to monitor electricity use. Turning down the temperature on hot water heaters and using a thermostat on a space heater could help trim the electricity costs to run them, Linda Ball, vice president of customer service at CMP, said.

“It’s a lot of little things that add up over a month,” she said.