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CMP will seek three-year rate hike under new grid upgrade plan

In this Tuesday, May 28, 2019 photo, power lines converge on a Central Maine Power substation in Pownal, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
In this Tuesday, May 28, 2019 photo, power lines converge on a Central Maine Power substation in Pownal, Maine.

Electricity bills for the average Central Maine Power customer could increase by as much as $10 a month over the next three years, under a new reliability and grid upgrade plan from the utility.

CMP told state regulators that it will file a three-year rate case later this summer. Under the proposal, the average household would see rate increases of about $5.00 a month during the first year, and an additional $2.50 monthly increase during the second and third years.

The rate increases will cover upgrades to the grid, which CMP said are necessary to support a growing number of solar and other renewable energy connections.

Gov. Janet Mills said she opposes the plan, and she called on CMP not to file the request later this summer.

"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," Mills said Thursday in a statement. "There is simply no way that increasing folks’ electricity bills right now can be considered just and reasonable. I will fight this."

The timing for a potential electricity rate increase is "terrible" with high natural gas prices and the war in Ukraine putting additional pressure on the global energy market, Public Advocate Bill Harwood said.

"To put this increase on top of all that right now, is a real burden on Maine citizens, who are facing high energy costs," he said.

CMP President Joe Purington said he acknowledges that many Mainers are having a tough time financially.

But he said the plan will bring some stability and reliability to its customers over the next few years, and it will allow CMP to install more durable lines and poles that can withstand more intense storms due to climate change.

"The way that I look at this is that I'd rather have a steady investment onto the system and slowly pass those costs onto customers, rather than defer those costs out into future years, where the increase would be much more significant," Purington said.

Harwood said his staff is preparing to analysis the full CMP plan once it's filed. They will likely recommend ways CMP can lower costs to ratepayers, including a reduction to its overall profit margin, he said.

"We're going to do a very careful analysis of the financial markets, and I suspect that we will be recommending something significantly less," Harwood said.

If the plan receives approval from the Public Utilities Commission, rate increases would go into effect during the third quarter of 2023.