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  • Rep. Berry’s bill to tackle rising electricity costs draws strong bipartisan vote in Maine

    Testimony from Sen. Keim made compelling case for legislative action

     Rep. Seth Berry outside the State House in Augusta, Maine. Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Rep. Seth Berry’s bill to address rising delivery costs in Mainers’ electric bills drew strong support from the Legislature’s Energy Utilities and Technology Committee Thursday. 

    Berry’s bill, An Act to Protect Maine Residents and Businesses from Rising Electricity Costs, would establish a task force that meets in spring and summer of 2018 to examine factors driving up electric bills for both residents and businesses, making proactive recommendations to the next governor and Legislature.

    “As Governor LePage has often mentioned, Maine has some of the highest electricity costs in the nation. We need the significant cost drivers of this issue to be addressed,” said Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, the bill’s lead co-sponsor.

    Keim’s testimony was instrumental in highlighting the concerns of many rural Maine residents and business owners who had expressed concerns that rising delivery costs were affecting their budgets.

    “Rising delivery costs have been driving up our electric bills for far too long,” said Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “It is time to get everyone with a stake in this issue together and do something for Maine’s ratepayers. Many people are still working harder for less, and just as many are trying to handle these larger bills with fixed incomes.”  

    Berry, who co-chairs the committee, introduced LD 1700 along with Keim on the heels of the Halloween windstorm of 2017, due to concerns that ratepayers will be responsible for the majority of the repair costs. Central Maine Power has assessed its total storm costs at $69 million and has requested reimbursement by customers for $67 million of that amount, both from monies previously paid and from monies to be paid in future bills.

    More generally, Keim and Berry are concerned about the past several years of major increases to the delivery portion of Maine electricity bills, which pays for the poles, wires, meters, substations and transformers owned by the state’s major electricity carriers.  These “transmission and distribution” increases have been especially pronounced in the areas served by Maine’s two largest power companies, CMP and Emera Maine. From 2007 to 2016, for instance, CMP’s residential rate for transmission increased by 270 percent. 

    On Thursday, 10 of the committee’s 13 members voted to proceed with a robust study of the cost drivers leading to rising electricity delivery costs.  The work would be conducted by a task force with a broad array of members, including AARP, energy-intensive businesses, legislators, and others, with assistance from the Public Advocate and the Public Utilities Commission.  

    Supporting organizations of Berry’s bill include the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, the Maine Renewable Energy Association, AARP Maine, the Industrial Energy Consumer Group and ReEnergy.

    Berry represents House District 55: Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island, and most of Richmond. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House Majority Leader.