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John “Jack” E. Ducharme, III, R-Madison, serves District 71 in the Maine House of Representatives. He is the House Republican lead on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.
With the defeat of Pine Tree Power, a plan to apparently lower costs by spending as much as $13.5 billion to have elected bureaucrats run what is now Central Maine Power and Versant Power, it’s time to start looking at what is driving electricity costs. I could join the choir of clucking hens or I could offer solutions to help halt the continual increase in our electricity bills.
The first problem that needs fixed is the directive of the Public Utilities Commission. To put it simply, I believe we have set ourselves up for failure. Rather than focusing solely on affordability, the Legislature has put into law in the commission’s statement of purpose arbitrary greenhouse gas emissions reductions that govern policies and decision-making, likely increasing the cost of electricity for Maine ratepayers.
I introduced a bill last session that would remove the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the basic purpose of the state’s utility regulatory system. This would allow the utilities commission to focus on its original statutory directive: to ensure safe, reasonable and adequate service, and to assist in minimizing the cost of energy available to the state’s consumers.
Instead of concentrating on what is best for Mainers’ pocketbooks, the utilities commission now has the added focus on politically driven climate goals. Their means of “trying” to reach these climate goals has been subsidizing solar through policies like net energy billing or new rules to eventually make Mainers purchase electric cars and trucks. I fear these policies will raise rates, destroy our roads and they are just not practical for everyday Mainers. Never mind that they also will not have a large impact on global emissions.
Those costs are now being detailed in CMP bills, where they outline $8.12 a month in “non-CMP public policy” charges. These are not CMP charges. They’re not due to rising natural gas costs because of war or lack of investment. They are monthly costs added to Mainers’ electric bills to subsidize expensive renewable power and purchase above market rate power. These are essentially taxes imposed on people’s electricity without them likely even knowing about it. These charges have grown, and likely will continue to grow, as lawmakers, led by Democrats look to subsidize more Mainers unable to keep up with their bills. As long as enough people have the ability to pay inflated monthly electric costs, they can continue to subsidize the growing number who can’t.
These growing costs to ratepayers have been brought up by the state’s public advocate as well, whose responsibility is to represent the interests of Maine utility consumers. The Legislature’s response? Bills from Democrats to restrict the public advocate’s office or require that they too base their decisions on climate goals.
Next, the utilities commission should increase transparency by moving the ball on the actual cost and source of energy by making that information clear on everyone’s electric bill. Electricity suppliers in Maine should provide fact sheets to educate consumers about their electricity service. Ratepayers already receive a breakdown of a supplier’s power sources and air emissions. This disclosure should also include the cost of electricity from those power sources. I cosponsored a bill to address this very issue, and while the version passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor doesn’t solve the problem, it is a step in the right direction. Rest assured, I will continue to push for transparency in our electricity bills.
The short of it all is this: we must start by directing regulators to prioritize lowering energy costs for Maine ratepayers and increase transparency in our electricity bills. If we do not implement these changes, I fear the burden our energy costs will be more than Mainers can bear.