New Emera Maine Deal Could Offer Millions in Rate Relief For Customers, But Some Lawmakers Are Wary
The electric utility Emera Maine and its would-be Canadian buyer Enmax are proposing millions of dollars in rate relief for customers — if the deal goes through. But some state lawmakers are calling on regulators to take their time setting terms for the $1.2 billion deal.
Under a new statute enacted this year, the state's Public Utilities Commission must find that there is a "net benefit" for consumers when a regulated utility is sold. To that end Emera, Enmax, the Office of the Public Advocate and other stakeholders struck a deal over the weekend that includes $8 million in rate relief for all Emera customers, with an extra $5 million in relief for low-income consumers.
"Right there, that's $13 million. Emera Maine's distribution revenue requirement is only 90 million," says William Harwood, a lawyer at Verrill Dana, who made Emera's case before the Public Utilities Commission.
Add in the value of freezing rates for another 15 months, he says, and the relief would amount to more than a quarter of what the utility currently charges its 160,000 customers.
"For a small utility with a revenue requirement of $90 million, I don't see how you can come to any conclusion than that it more than satisfies the net benefits test," he says.
But state Representative Nicole Grohoski of Ellsworth is opposing the deal. She says the Commission should not simply accept the agreement at face value and instead should require a full-blown and publicly litigated proceeding.
She says the sale is important because it would set a precedent for the new net benefit requirement, and that, in addition to rate relief, regulators should seek more specific commitments to raising service standards and getting more renewable energy into the state's electricity mix.
"Affordable and reliable electricity is critical to the survival and prosperity of this region, as the world becomes electrified,” says Grohoski. “The question I ask myself is not whether Enmax is a good utility to serve the people that I represent, but the best utility."
Grohoski also called on regulators to review other purchase offers Emera received for a better sense of the range of benefits that could be on the table.
The Commission meets Tuesday to decide next steps.