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May 17, 2017

Bill setting limits on electricity sellers goes to governor

The Maine Senate on Tuesday voted unanimously to enact a bill by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, to bring greater transparency to the competitive electricity supply market.

The bill now goes to Gov. Paul LePage, who has 10 days to sign it into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

LD 803, "An Act To Improve Transparency in the Electricity Supply Market," requires competitive electricity providers to disclose to customers if the rate they're paying is higher than the standard-offer electricity service rate. The companies are separate from utilities like Emera Maine or Central Maine Power Co.

The bill also:

  • Requires renewal notices to be sent to customers by certified mail, with return receipt requested.
  • Prohibits the competitive electricity provider from renewing a contract for generation service without express consent from customers.
  • Requires providers to include on their customers' monthly utility bill the standard-offer rate for comparison against the rate they're paying and the expiration date of the customer's contract.
  • Requires the Public Utilities Commission, in consultation with the public advocate, to determine if consumers paid more for generation service purchased from competitive electricity providers instead of through standard-offer service and if so by how much and to submit its findings to the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

"There's mounting evidence that these utilities worked hard to pull the wool over Mainers' eyes," Libby, the assistant Senate Democratic leader, said in a news release. "They promised lower costs but delivered bloated electric bills and impossible-to-navigate contracts. This bill institutes common sense regulations that will keep Mainers from being ripped off."

The competitive electricity supply market is designed to offer consumers choices and, ultimately, reduced prices. But an investigative report by the Bangor Daily News in November showed that while such companies promised savings, they actually charged customers about $50 million more over a three-year period than those consumers would have paid if they had been charged the automatic standard offer.

According to the BDN, customers and consumer advocates said many customers were charged higher rates when they were automatically re-enrolled in a plan.

Public advocate Tim Schneider told the BDN the rules would put Maine "on the cutting edge" for consumer protections regarding retail electricity providers.

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