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Forecasters: Maine electricity rates could fall — or rise — in response to global conflicts

In this Tuesday, May 28, 2019, photo power lines span the Androscoggin River in Auburn, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
In this Tuesday, May 28, 2019, photo power lines span the Androscoggin River in Auburn, Maine.

A dip in natural gas prices from last year could moderate Maine electricity rates, but regulators caution that the war between Israel and Hamas threatens that trend.

Natural gas prices are currently running about 25% less than they were a year ago, when Russia's invasion of Ukraine sent prices soaring.

Maine ratepayers felt that spike acutely because electricity generation here is heavily reliant on natural gas.

Public Utilities Commission chairman Phil Bartlett told the state's revenue forecasting commission Monday that he's hopeful that the current drop in natural gas will provide some relief in electricity rates, just as it has for some other states in the region.

However, Bartlett said the conflict in the Middle East could send prices back on the upswing, especially if the war between Israel and Hamas widens to include other nations in the region.

"And should things get worse over the next few weeks we could see an increase in prices that could ripple into the natural gas market," he said.

About 60% of Maine ratepayer bills are determined by electricity supply costs, and according to PUC data, supply-side costs have more than doubled since 2013.

Most of that increase occurred last year when sanctions against Russia and its retaliatory curtailment of natural gas exports to Europe roiled energy markets.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, record domestic production of natural gas and milder temperatures were responsible for the lower prices in the first half of this year.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.