No mention in this article of the natural gas pipelines being blocked. Maine sits remarkably close to massive natural gas deposits, e.g., in PA and NY, but needlessly suffers because new pipelines have been blocked by Massachusetts and New York. Ideology and stupidity are going to get people killed.
More than 2,000 Maine households have been disconnected over the past month, and tens of thousands more are struggling with past-due balances.
By Hannah LaClaire Staff Writer
Tens of thousands of Mainers have struggled to pay their electric bills over the past two years, resulting in thousands of service disconnections, hundreds of thousands of past-due notices issued and tens of millions of dollars in utility revenue lost.
Federal and state financial aid, coupled with seasonal and pandemic-related disconnection moratoriums, have helped keep many Mainers connected to the grid. Both Central Maine Power and Versant Power, the state’s two largest electric utilities, are reporting fewer disconnections and overdue bills through early May compared with the same period a year ago.
But it’s not all good news. With much of the aid running out, pandemic-related moratoriums no longer in effect and utility bills rising to new highs, the struggles to keep the lights on could worsen for many people.
Each fall, the Maine Public Utilities Commission conducts a competitive bid process to lock down the “standard offer” electricity supply for the year ahead. The majority of Mainers buy their power at the standard offer rate, and they were jolted in January when rates shot up from roughly 6 cents per kilowatt-hour to nearly twice that amount in Central Maine Power and Versant Power service areas.
The price increase, driven largely by rising natural gas prices, has added about $30 a month, or $360 a year, to the average Maine household electric bill. CMP, the state’s largest electric utility, serves roughly 640,000 customers across the state, while Versant serves about 160,000 customers in eastern and northern Maine.
While early projections were hopeful that the price increase would be temporary, that expectation has been replaced with the reality that “forward” prices energy traders pay for natural gas and electricity contracts for delivery next winter aren’t easing and are likely to remain high at least into 2023.
At the same time, with inflation at a 40-year high, families are paying more for food, fuel and housing, leaving many with less left over to pay their natural gas, heating oil and electric bills.
A 2019 study by the Maine Office of the Public Advocate in found that low-income households spent, on average, 19 percent of their income on energy costs. With those costs now nearly double the 2019 amount, that 19 percent could be closer to 40 percent now, said state Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham....................................
..................................Disconnections and arrears are down at both CMP and Versant, but the amount owed and the number of people who need help paying their bills seems to be rising.
At Versant, the average overdue bill has more than doubled, from $251 through April 2021 to $563 through April 2022. There are 12,181 customers on payment plans, up from 10,602 at the end of 2021. The data was not tracked monthly until recently, so a month-to-month comparison was not available.....................................Berry is an organizer of the Our Power campaign, which aims to establish a consumer-owned utility in Maine to replace CMP and Versant through a citizen referendum.
He said the current situation only underscores the “dire need” for serious reform to the state’s electricity system. If Maine is to achieve its climate change goals, it’s crucial that the cleaner option be less expensive than fossil fuels, he said...........................
Staff Writer Tux Turkel contributed to this report.
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