LD 318 not good for Maine electric customers

Mon, 03/28/2022 - 3:30pm

Dear Editor:

With utility rates skyrocketing, many Mainers are struggling to keep the heat and lights on. Unfortunately, LD 318, "An Act to Provide More Options to Maine Electric Service Customers and Support Maine's Climate Goals," passed through the Maine Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee and will be voted on this week. The bill would have dire consequences if the current version passes into law.

LD 318 promises benefits to Maine consumers by opening our arms to third-party retail electric providers. These out-of-state providers will make the utility marketplace more complex and more confusing for ratepayers. Worse still, studies of third-party providers in the marketplace in other states reported both higher bills and higher rates of residential disconnection.

In addition, ample evidence from around the country highlights the abusive sales practices many of these retail providers routinely use. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Connecticut recently fined retail providers after investigations revealed “teaser rates” which quickly expire and are then replaced with variable rates; high cancellation fees and other hidden charges; and variable rates that have no cap and no advance warnings to sudden increases often leading to disconnection.

It is important to note that there is part of LD 318 that would benefit Maine electric customers. The funding set aside to study Maine’s standard offer, or default service, would help the state understand how to avoid future sudden rate increases, such as those we saw this past January.

As written, LD 318 doesn’t favor Maine’s ratepayers. It needs consumer protections written by regulators, not the retail electric industry. It needs a study designed to protect low-income customers, eliminate variable rate contracts, and simplify, not complicate, our electric utility billing process.

We hope legislators take the time to improve LD 318 by including these vital consumer protections to this study. Last-minute bills, authored by out-of-state energy marketers, should receive some discussion and debate. Maine electric consumers are depending on that. No matter your political leanings or what part of Maine you call home, we can all agree that driving future electric rates even higher is the last thing ratepayers, particularly older Mainers, can afford.

Carl Bucciantini

Volunteer State President

AARP Maine