Homeowners, businesses to see higher electric bills

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AUGUSTA — Winter’s coming, and electric bills are on their way up for mid-size businesses. For homeowners, higher bills will arrive in March.

Electricity costs for mid-size businesses, such as a small sawmill or grocery store, are expected to more than double by January, from a typical $870 bill in September to $2,000 in January.

For homeowners, “the wolf doesn’t get to the door until late February,” Public Utilities Commission Chairman Tom Welch said Tuesday.

He didn’t know how much higher homeowners’ bills would rise. Based on the New England market, experts estimate the increase to be less severe. A typical home that uses 545 kilowatts of electricity per month could see an increase of $15 to $20 a month, Maine Public Advocate Tim Schneider said.

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The amount should be known in January, Welch said.

“If you’ve been putting off decisions to make your electricity usage more efficient,” now’s a good time to make changes, Welch said.

In the business world, higher electricity costs are already straining corporate budgets, Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Chip Morrison said.

“This makes it a bigger deal,” he said. “It’s a big concern. People have a lot of money tied up in energy costs.”

The chamber will sponsor a panel discussion from 8 to 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, to help businesses reduce their electricity costs.

Mountain Machine Works President Bruce Tisdale said climbing energy costs are a problem for his Auburn company, and others.

“Look at the three mills that closed this year,” he said. “All expressed that one of the major reasons they closed is energy costs in the state. It does need to be looked at.”

The higher electricity costs will hit standard-offer medium-business customers whose costs fluctuate by month. For that group, the per-kilowatt-hour rate was 6 cents in September. It will be 8.6 cents in November, and 14.9 cents in January.

Some schools, depending on their size and energy use, could be in that group, Schneider said. Auburn School Superintendent Katy Grondin said Auburn is not; the School Department has negotiated electricity prices and the rate will go up three cents per kilowatt-hour.

Homeowners’ standard-offer rates don’t fluctuate each month; they are set for the year beginning March 1.

The reason for higher electricity costs is a winter spike in demand for natural gas.

In the past few years, more consumers have converted to natural gas for heat. That means in the winter there’s not enough pipeline to get the natural gas to plants to generate electricity, Welch said. “When the pipelines are close to full, the price gets very expensive.”

It’s a problem in Maine and all of New England, Welch said. One long-term solution could be to build more pipelines in Maine and New England. That is being discussed but not yet decided, Welch said.

Historically, electricity prices haven’t varied much in the winter, public advocate Schneider said. “Now, that’s starting to change.”

Recognizing how higher energy costs will be difficult for businesses, Welch recommended companies get help from Efficiency Maine to learn about cutting usage and how to qualify for rebates for energy improvements.

For more information, call the toll-free number at 866-ES-MAINE.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

Cutting electricity costs

  • High-efficiency fluorescent and LED lights can cut power usage by as much as 75 percent, according to the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Lighting controls are also an easy option for offices, and recent studies show that most Maine offices are not taking advantage of the technology.
  • Businesses can look to Efficiency Maine for financial incentives that will speed the payback on new equipment installations, including high-efficiency air compressors, commercial refrigerators, pumps and drives. Large custom projects can also qualify for help. Efficiency Maine recently awarded a rebate for super-high-efficiency snow guns at a major Maine ski area.
  • Schedule voluntary reductions in energy use during peak winter demand periods. This isn’t available through Central Maine Power, but may be available through other organizations that sell electricity. A manufacturing facility might shift some planned production to non-peak hours, or a school or training facility could shift hours of use or reduce the number of days it is open, making up the time during warmer months.
  • Local businesses can attend an Androscoggin County Chamber panel discussion: “Energy Savings: There are Options” from 8 to 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 23. Speakers will include Central Maine Power, Efficiency Maine, Optimal Energy Group and Usource Energy. To register online, go to www.androscoggin.com, or call the chamber at 783-2249.
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