Maine Natural Gas looks to increase rates

Utility says rates would increase for 3 years, drop in 4th

By: David Charns |

Maine’s Public Utility Commission is weighing a proposal from Maine Natural Gas to raise its delivery rates more than 20 percent over three years. The average cost for residential customers would increase about 10 percent in the first year, the utility estimated.

According to the PUC, which regulates Maine’s utilities, Maine Natural Gas delivery rates would increase by 21 percent on Dec. 1, another 21 percent on Dec. 1, 2016, and another 39 percent on Dec. 1, 2017. Rates are then expected to decline 25 percent in 2018.

According to Maine Natural Gas, the average residential customer, using 1,122 therms a year, would see their bill increase 9.7 percent in the first year, 8 percent in the second and 7.8 percent in the third.

Kim Elwell owns the Looking Glass salon on Maine Street in Brunswick. She switched over to natural gas a few years ago.

“I want it at my house, and I live a mile away from my shop,” she said. “I’ve had a 50-70 percent drop in my electrical heating bills.”

Though Elwell is saving money, company leaders at Iberdrola USA, which owns Maine Natural Gas, said they made no positive equity last year.

John Carroll, Iberdrola USA’s director of corporate communications, said as the demand for natural gas increased, prices decreased, and the company built out its network.

Maine Natural Gas offers service in and around Augusta, Brunswick and Windham.

“We’re really not earning any kind of reasonable return on that investment,” Carroll said. Carroll said the rate increase proposals matched with the industry standard. He also said the company is expected to sign a contract that would bring more supply into Maine.

“We’re signing a long-term contract that we think, 2-3 years out, will provide a significant benefit on lower gas prices on consumers,” Carroll said.

Several customers have written to the PUC in opposition.

“The price is no longer affordable and will become less so if this rate increase is allowed,” one Brunswick customer wrote.

“It is up to the members of the PUC to protect us from being gauged by the monopoly that controls delivery of that fuel,” another said.

“When I compare the price of my electric and my natural gas, I’m really happy,” Elwell said.

The PUC held a hearing on the proposed rate increase Thursday at Brunswick High School. Carroll said he did not think there would be any more public hearings after Thursday’s. The decision about the rate hikes rests with the PUC.