High prices and consumer complaints about Maine’s competitive electricity market have drawn a new round of criticism from the state’s Office of the Public Advocate.

Electricity consumers paid about $80.4 million more from 2016 to 2022 with competitive electricity providers than what they would have spent had they purchased electricity at the standard offer rate, the public advocate said in a recent report.

“To me, it’s a shocking number,” Public Advocate William Harwood said in an interview.

The standard offer is the default rate approved by the state Public Utilities Commission and is the choice of most households and small-business customers who don’t contract with competitive electricity providers.

Some competitive electricity providers initially offer low prices that critics call “teaser rates” to attract customers. Those rates eventually rise and have been criticized previously by the public advocate’s office.

In every year from 2016 to 2021, nearly 52,000 customers in the competitive electricity market paid more to electricity providers on average than if they had stuck with the standard offer rate, which is the utilities’ default supply rate for the large majority of residential and small-business customers.


In 2021, for example, customers of competitive electricity providers paid, on average, nearly 8.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, about one-third more than the standard offer of 6.4 cents in CMP’s territory, the Office of the Public Advocate said.

For a Maine customer who uses an average of 500 kWh a month to power their home, the price difference would be $11 a month.

Price differences in 2022 were an exception: The standard offer price of 11.8 cents a kWh was higher than the 9 cents charged by competitive electricity providers on average. That means standard offer customers paid about $14 more a month that year. The change reflected higher energy prices in the marketplace, Harwood said. As a result, competitive electricity providers “can beat the standard offer from time to time,” he said.

“We think the better way is to look at it over seven years,” he said.

Harwood has previously urged that the competitive market be phased out. His office has said the marketplace has failed to reduce prices and advance the state’s climate goals.

Asked Tuesday by Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland, at a meeting of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee if he sticks to that position, he acknowledged that “a lot of interest” supports the competitive electricity market. He said he’s focusing on low-income electricity customers.


“If we’re going to help them get by and we’re going to give them taxpayer and ratepayer dollars to help them pay their CMP and Versant bill, it just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me to have some of that subsidy flow back to a large out-of-state energy company who’s managed to convince them to buy a CEP contract that’s above the standard offer,” Harwood said.

The committee is considering legislation that would require competitive electricity providers to inform customers, at the time that their contract is renewed, about how to compare the standard offer service and rates of other competitive electricity providers. It also would require competitive electricity providers to get customer consent for contract renewals and require electric utilities to process electronic enrollments or “unenrollments” in three business days.

Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, said competitive electricity providers are “doing OK by their customers.”

“We shouldn’t be legislating their business model, and I don’t even think we should be addressing their business model,” he said.

Steven Hudson, a lawyer representing NRG Energy Inc., told lawmakers Tuesday that consumers should have the right to “shop for electricity the same way they have the right to shop where they buy their gasoline, where they buy their heating oil, where they buy other items.” The legislation, he said, “in many places goes too far and eliminates competition.”

In prepared testimony to the Legislature on Feb. 6, Hudson said not all competitive retail products are the same as the standard offer. Some products extend for six months compared with a one-year standard offer, and longer terms are available to customers who prefer stable rates, he said. And so-called green energy may differ from the standard offer that “merely complies” with Maine’s renewable energy portfolio, he said.


“A comparison between plain vanilla standard service and the many flavors of competitive offers based strictly on undifferentiated rates is misleading and a disservice to customers,” Hudson said.

The Retail Energy Supply Association testified that requiring electricity providers to give customers written renewal rates and terms, the standard-offer service rate, and the website addresses of the Public Utilities Commission and Public Advocate with rate comparisons are “unnecessarily burdensome.”

Requiring an electricity supplier to get consent to keep a customer after the expiration of a contract term will result in customers “automatically going back to standard-offer service against their will” and would establish barriers to competition that are not imposed in similar industries, such as telecommunications and cable, the association said.

Providing individual requests for consent for every customer also would add administrative costs to renewing contracts, it said. State rules already require renewal notices to include a link to the rate shopping site maintained by the Office of the Public Advocate, the industry group said.

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