The season may seem like a burden as we endure storm after storm, but winter provides the thousands of people who enjoy the Maine ski industry each year with ideal conditions for recreation. Our ski areas thrive in the winter. They make snow, groom ski trails, operate lifts, and maintain hotels, condominiums, shops and restaurants.

Electricity powers much of our operation, and Maine ski areas have become efficient at optimizing their use of electricity.

The critical role that energy costs play in our business is the reason an issue before the Maine Public Utilities Commission is so disturbing. The utility that provides electricity to most of Maine’s ski areas is attempting to increase electricity rates and change the methods by which fees are calculated, potentially causing significant harm to our industry.

In recent years, Sunday River and Sugarloaf have made major investments, with the help of Efficiency Maine, in energy-efficient snowmaking equipment, and Sunday River, for example, has cut electricity usage by 25 percent. This has not only been good for these two resorts, but for all rate payers by decreasing the need for expensive transmission system upgrades and construction of costly new generation.

This is in line with Maine’s environmental goals.

Shawnee Peak, Mt. Abram and Camden Snow Bowl have invested money in this same ultra-efficient snowmaking equipment. Lost Valley, Black Mountain, Saddleback and Hermon Mountain utilize the latest in “fan” snowmaking technology which provides similar energy efficiency. Those improvements give the ski areas the ability to reduce electric load during peak periods.

Unfortunately, these positive developments are being threatened by Central Maine Power’s attempt to change the rules.

In the current rate case before the PUC, CMP’s proposed pricing structure could reduce the incentive for efficiency; and that’s not the only threat to Maine businesses in CMP’s case.

Maine ski areas are also asking the PUC to use this rate case to address the fact that seasonal electricity peak load no longer occurs in winter. The Maine electric grid now reaches its highest demand for electricity in the summer.

The annual peak load of a utility has universally been the method used to determine the amount of transmission capacity to be built. There is currently a proposal in the rate case to use that same formula for setting distribution demand rates.

Since Maine’s electricity peak is summer, not winter, rates should reflect this fundamental change. Maine ski areas are penalized with very high winter demand charges caused by this outdated rate structure.

By charging demand rates during the CMP system peak, electricity consumers would be incentivized to reduce peak load. Reducing or slowing the peak load could result in lower utility bills for consumers and lower capital investment costs for the utility.

A reduction or elimination of the penalty to winter consumers would allow Maine ski areas to operate facilities at the highest level of efficiency and take one more step to stabilizing their businesses.

Another troubling component of the rate case — the stand-by charge — would allow CMP to charge a ski area (and other consumers) on the basis of what the consumer could use, whether or not they actually use that electricity.

Mt. Abram is about to move forward on a solar field that will generate electricity and reduce its annual electric consumption through CMP’s transmission and distribution system.

The ski area, will install a solar photovoltaic system consisting of 869 solar panels and producing 422,076 kWh of clean, renewable energy annually. CMP could charge Mt. Abram as though the solar panels did not exist and the project would be nearly useless.

And it’s not only Mt. Abram that would be harmed by the standby charge.

Eaton Mountain is a small community area that can generate a portion of its own electricity to use during periods of peak demand. This reduces operating cost and lessens the burden to the CMP grid during those peak periods.

Spruce Mountain, in Jay, and Hermon Mountain, in Hermon, generate nearly 100 percent of their electricity to operate their lifts, snowmaking and buildings.

Sunday River and Sugarloaf currently reduce their peak load through their ability to direct-drive their major lifts, and they continue to explore all options, including self-generation, in the future.

It is counterintuitive to remove the potential for future innovations that could help ski areas control the cost of electricity and reduce the load on the current electric utility infrastructure.

The ski areas in Maine represent a bright spot in Maine’s rural regions. Ski areas employ thousands of people during those long winter months.

Central Maine Power’s attempt to limit customer choice by penalizing self-generation could harm all Maine businesses and should be stopped at the PUC.

As a state, we should take this opportunity to change electric rates in a way that will help consumers, not harm them.

Greg Sweetser is the executive director of the Ski Maine Association, the statewide organization representing the downhill and cross country ski areas in Maine.

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