Gov. Janet Mills calls Central Maine Power’s proposed rate hike ‘outrageous’, plans to oppose request

Fri, 05/27/2022 - 3:00am

Maine Gov. Janet Mills is asking Central Maine Power, a publicly traded utility serving geographically half of the Maine state with electricity, not to file a rate hike request with the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

In a news release issued May 26 from the Governor’s Office, Mills said she would direct her Energy Office to intervene in opposition.
Maine Public Advocate Bill Harwood took the same stance.
In its notice, the utility said it will request a three-year rate increase that will result in an increase of roughly $10 per month for the average residential ratepayer in Maine to be phased in late 2023.

CMP calls the rate increase part of its new Powering Maine plan. It said the plan is to beef up the infrastructure (poles and wires, and storm response), to reduce outages, and enable greater adoption of renewable energy onto the grid.

CMP said in its own May 26 news release that it must make updates to help Maine meet its climate change goals. It wants to trim more trees, build its smart meter system, and add coated wire to withstand volatile storms.

“We know household budgets are being hit hard by higher prices across the board right now, and the Powering Maine plan strives to ensure that progress continues on improving the electric grid and meeting clean energy goals—some of which will minimize annual energy costs over time—while being mindful that this is a tough time for many Mainers,” the release said.

New rates are proposed to go into effect in third quarter 2023.

But Gov. Mills countered later in the day, May 26, that the proposed added costs are outrageous.

“Maine people are already struggling with sky high costs from record inflation, including high electricity rates that are the result of New England’s dependance on expensive, harmful fossil fuels,” she said. “For CMP to say they want to heap added costs onto Maine people adds insult to injury. It’s outrageous. I call on CMP not to file this request. If they unwisely do, I will direct my Energy Office to intervene in the case to oppose it, and I will call on the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reject it so that Maine sends the clear message to our utilities that their focus needs to be on improving performance, reducing cost burdens, and restoring trust. There is simply no way that increasing folks’ electricity bills right now can be considered just and reasonable. I will fight this.”
Harwood added: “Any increase in electricity rates right now poses an unwanted additional financial burden on Maine ratepayers, for whom the cost of nearly every other necessity is rising. My office will be carefully examining the details of CMP’s request to identify any underlying costs that are out of line and will offer the Public Utilities Commission an alternative recommendation that is consistent with the statutory requirement that CMP’s rates be 'just and reasonable' and prioritizes the welfare of Maine ratepayers.”
In February, the Maine PUC opened an investigation into CMP’s management issues, as described in an independent audit by the Liberty Consulting Group, filed in July 2021.
“The Commission initiates this Investigation pursuant to 35-A M.R.S. § 1303(2) to consider how Central Maine Power Company (CMP) and its customers are affected by decisions made at the CMP corporate parent level about earnings, capital budgeting and planning,” the filing said. “In this context, the investigation will examine regulatory approaches and structures including ratemaking mechanisms, performance and, as necessary, related matters identified in the July 12, 2021, audit report....”
CMP is owned by Iberdrola, S.A., Avangrid, Inc. and Avangrid Networks.
The investigation is to look at:
Operational experience, organizational stability, and staffing levels at CMP;
Governance related issues, including the makeup and focus of the Iberdrola, Avangrid and CMP Boards of Directors;
Planning and budgeting, including concerns stemming from the fact that these processes and decisions reside at the Avangrid Networks level.

In the most recent filings at the PUC, CMP raised objections to data requests by the PUC.

CMP said the the requests are overly broad, unduly burdensome, beyond the scope of the proceeding, or not likely to lead to relevant information. 
Last November, CMP raised the supply rates by 83 percent for average residential customers.

The residential standard offer price amounted to an increase of about $30 per month on the total bill for an average customer using 550 kWh/month, or an increase from about $96 to about $126. 

According to reports, CMP wants to use funds from the rate hike to install sturdier infrastructure (poles and lines) as storms increase in intensity.