PORTLAND (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci joined the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Friday in protesting a rule change put before federal regulators that would impose another electric rate increase in northern Maine.

The proposal would mean a 7.6 percent increase for residents served by Maine Public Service Co. who were already walloped by a 45 percent increase in January.

Baldacci contends the reason for the increase is an administrative charge that will do nothing to improve reliability of the system as it’s intended to do.

The Northern Maine Independent System Administrator, which operates the power grid in Aroostook and Washington counties, is seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for new requirements for electric suppliers when it comes to excess capacity.

The power grid operator says the requirements won’t mean a price increase, but PUC Chairman Kurt Adams disputes that claim.

“They represent on the first page of the filing that there will be no impact on ratepayers,” Adams said from Augusta. “That’s absolutely untrue.”

The energy supplier that provides the standard offer contract for the region’s electricity consumers had a stipulation regarding capacity, said PUC spokeswoman Nicole Clegg. Thus any increase in capacity costs would be passed on to ratepayers.

The PUC contends there was no need for the Northern Maine Independent System Administrator to press the issue of capacity.

“The current system is working and the system administrator has even said as much. They provided no justification when they proposed the rule change,” Clegg said.

The problems in northern Maine are unique because its power grid is separate from the larger grid, ISO New England, that serves the rest of the six-state region. Aroostook County is actually connected to the grid in neighboring New Brunswick.

In December, the PUC declared a “market failure” because of a lack of competition that led to the price hike in Aroostook County. Integrys Energy Group offered the only bid for electric consumers’ standard offer contract.

The PUC rejected Integrys’ original offer and the energy supplier came back with the 45 percent increase that was accepted. Electric suppliers like Integrys are required to carry extra capacity to meet peaks in demand. In southern New England, those peaks tend to happen during the hottest days of the summer. In northern Maine, it happens on the coldest days of winter.

The Northern Maine Independent System Administrator was following FERC’s suggestion in the administrative order applying to capacity, said Ken Belcher, president.

“It’s a tough reconciliation between cost and reliability,” Belcher said from his office in Bangor. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Adams agreed that capacity costs need to be addressed.

“Northern Maine needs some kind of capacity vehicle, but it needs to be created in a way to limit the impact on ratepayers,” he said.

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