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County residents ask PUC to decline Emera rate increase

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A handful of Aroostook County residents and business leaders urged the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reject Emera Maine’s proposed rate hike during a hearing Tuesday.

At a May 1 public witness hearing at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, 8 people from Aroostook County testified against the proposed rate increase.

Emera Maine is asking the PUC to approve a 12 percent increase in its annual electricity distribution revenue, seeking to raise an additional $10.1 million in a bid to recoup costs of the October 2017 wind storm.

If the full proposal is approved, residential power customers would see an overall increase of 4 to 5 percent, or an additional $3.60 a month for the average household, according to Emera. The PUC is expected to make a decision in the case in June.

All of the people testifying in Presque Isle Tuesday asked the PUC to reject the increase, arguing that average residents as well as large industrial businesses can’t afford a third rate hike in five years. The PUC previously approved an 8.6 percent increase for Emera in 2013 and a 3.7 percent increase in 2015.  

“I really question why we’re being asked for a rate increase when our services keep going down,” said Barrett Parks, who runs Chops Ahoy Farm in Woodland.

“Since the acquisition of Maine Public Service in 2010, I have watched key personnel from the area here in Presque Isle drift southward. It used to be it took three days to get a new residential service installed. Now it takes six months.”

Bob Dorsey, president of the Aroostook Partnership, a consortium of employers, said that high electricity costs are a major concern for northern Maine’s large industrial companies such as lumber mills and manufacturing plants.

High energy costs “are creating a barrier to entry” for manufacturing businesses setting up in the area, Dorsey said. “It’s also a barrier to growth for some companies that are here.”

“I remember back in 2012, there was a major potato processing firm that came here doing their due diligence and ultimately they didn’t come here because of the high cost of energy,” Dorsey said.

“We really need to stabilize our costs. Companies that are here need to be able to plan.”

Owners and managers of large mills in Aroostook County have previously said that they’ve seen electric transmission fees increase significantly in the last several years. Emera Maine officials have attributed those fees to a range of factors, including efforts to replace the region’s aging transmission system and charges for sending power between Northern Maine’s electricity grid, New Brunswick transmission lines and the ISO-New England grid.

Shelly Mountain, a resident of Mapleton, said she was skeptical about the need for any rate increase and concerned about its impact to retirees and others living on modest incomes.

“If you can’t be profitable on what you’re doing, you need to change your business model,” Mountain said.

She added that she thinks the PUC should take into account the compensation of top executives at Emera Maine, which is part of the publicly traded energy company Emera based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“I’d like to know how much he made in salary and bonuses in 2017,” Mountain said, referring to Emera Maine CEO Alan Richardson, who was attending the public hearing in Orono. “I’m assuming he does pretty good.”

According to Emera Maine’s annual report with the PUC, in 2017 Richardson earned a salary of $516,162, with total compensation of $541,492 when considering other benefits. The CEO of Emera, Chris Huskilson, earned $5.7 million in total compensation in 2017, while the CEO of Emera U.S. Holdings, Rob Bennett, earned $2.1 million, according to a report by CBC Nova Scotia.

“My father lives only on Social Security,” Mountain said. “I went into his house the other day [and] the only thing that was running was his pellet stove. That’s his only source of heat.”

“Everywhere we turn, we are expected to pay for increases for other companies, for schools, for everything. And all the time that all these things are increasing, wages and income are staying the same. We’re feeding off the bottom. It can’t continue.”

More than 80 Emera Maine customers voiced their opposition to the proposed rate hike at the three public witness hearings held at the same time Tuesday in Machias, Orono and Presque Isle.

The AARP Maine has been leading a campaign to urge the PUC to reject the rates.

“Raising electric rates, yet again, is unaffordable for many Mainers, especially for those living on a fixed income,” said Amy Gallant, AARP Maine Advocacy Director, in a press release and in her remarks at the hearing in Machias.

Emera Maine customers can submit comments on the proposed rate increase via the PUC’s website.

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