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  • Democrats in Maine stood up for electricity customers-Rep Seth Berry

    Op-ed by Rep. Seth Berry, House chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. Rep. 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.   

    When it comes to our electricity bills, Mainers deserve to be treated with fairness and honesty. It’s a matter of basic trust.  And when that trust was broken several months ago, the Legislature fought back on your behalf.

    I’m Representative Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, and I’m the co-chair of the Energy Committee, which oversees all the utilities in our state.

    Shortly after the big windstorm last October, Central Maine Power customers began to complain about unusually large bills. Many people’s bills doubled or tripled – even the bills of some people who were without power for over a week because of the storm.

    As my colleagues and I began to investigate, hold hearings and ask questions, it became clear that something had gone very wrong. State regulators backed up our conclusion when they opened a formal investigation, and now there is a class action lawsuit alleging that nearly 300,000 homes and businesses may have been overcharged.

    We also discovered something else strange and disturbing – the law on the books said that you, the electricity customer, had to pay for regulators to investigate the electric companies, even if that investigation found the company at fault.

    To understand how unfair that is, imagine someone robs your house, and then you get a bill in the mail from the police after they catch the suspect.   

    That’s why my committee got to work on changing the law. Democrats worked hard to convince our Republican colleagues that this was the right thing to do.

    And I’m proud to say that – after a long negotiation – we were successful. The new law – called “the Riley Amendment” after Representative Tina Riley of Jay – allows Maine’s Public Utilities Commission to start charging power company shareholders – and not customers – for investigations when the company is at fault.

    It also allows the PUC to establish independent audits, so that we can keep a close eye on the power companies’ meters and billing systems to make sure you’re not being overcharged. 

    When it comes to consumer protection, there’s still a long way to go. But I’m proud of the steps we took, and I’m looking forward to doing more. 

    Maine families and small businesses watch every penny, whether we’re trying to cool down our homes in the summer or keep the furnace going in the winter. Those efforts to save money should be respected – not wiped away by a computer glitch.

    As we look ahead to a new legislature and a new governor next year, we need to make sure our incoming leaders are people who will stand up for you when a large corporation treats you unfairly. Democrats will be there fighting to make sure all utilities put their customers first.

  • Rep. Saucier introduces bill to ensure northern counties are included in reduced electricity rates for manufacturers

             

    By Ramona du Houx

    Rep. Robert Saucier has introduced legislation to ensure that Aroostook and Washington counties benefit from reduced power rates for Maine’s largest manufacturers.

    Earlier this year, the Legislature passed Public Law 498 with the intent of providing $3 million of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Trust Fund revenue to Maine’s largest employers that are manufacturers. Regulators recently have ruled the program is limited to the ISO-New England Grid. Aroostook and Washington Counties are connected to the Northern Maine Independent System Administrator grid Saucier agured that these Counties should be able to access RGGI trust funds..

    “We are as much a part of Maine as any other county and in fact have been hit harder and for longer by the recession than other parts of the state,” said Saucier, of Presque Isle. “Whether it is through this program or another, our area should not be excluded from reduced power rates that help other Maine businesses compete at the state and national level. Aroostook County is home to a number of manufacturers who contribute greatly to the economic health of our region. That is why I am introducing legislation to re-open the conversation on this decision.”

    To date RGGI has brought in $79,566,813.5 5 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the most recent auction RGGI earned the state over $2.2million. The funds are distributed through the trust fund.

    Aroostook County is home to McCain Foods, one of the largest frozen potato operations on the east coast, employing more than 500 employees. They issued a statement in May stating they should be included in the program.

    “I will be working closely with Rep. Saucier on his legislation to correct this,” said Rep Alley, from Beals. “It is frustrating that we would be left out of a program that would bring much-needed economic relief to our area. We need to see to it that businesses in Washington County can get the help they need to lower their energy costs.”

    Saucier is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Presque Isle.

    Alley is serving his first term in the Maine House and represents Addison, Beals, Cherryfield, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington, Jonesboro, Jonesport, Marshfield, Milbridge and Whitneyville.