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Maine natural gas company asks regulators to approve large rate hike

In this Feb. 27, 2014, file photo, natural gas pipes are stacked in Lincoln.
Nick Sambides Jr.
In this Feb. 27, 2014, file photo, natural gas pipes are stacked in Lincoln.

As energy prices increase for many Mainers, customers of one natural gas company could see their rates double.

Summit Natural Gas notified the Public Utilities Commission several months ago that it would be requesting a rate increase. Maine Public Advocate Bill Harwood says Summit customers already pay the highest natural gas rates in the state, with a typical monthly bill of about $170 per month. If the increase is approved, he says that could climb over seven years to as much as $350 per month.

Harwood says his office is opposed to the increase, and suggesting the PUC consider a much smaller rate increase.

Lizzy Reinholt, a spokesperson for Summit Natural Gas, says the company might not raise rates that high over time, but needs the capacity to do so.

"Our rate increase proposes about a 30% increase in base rates in year one, which is about an average increase of $27 per month, with the flexibility to increase over the next six years, but not a mandate to do so," she said. "So ultimately the market will set our rates, and what we've asked for is the flexibility to respond to that market over the next seven years."

Summit serves about 5,000 customers in the Kennebec Valley, and in Cumberland, Falmouth, and Yarmouth.

Harwood is encouraging Summit customers to attend the PUC's public hearings this month.

The hearings will be held Sept.22 at the Cumberland Town Hall, and Sept. 29 at the Public Utilities Commission in Hallowell, both at 6 p.m.

Murray Carpenter is Maine Public’s climate reporter, covering climate change and other environmental news.