Utilities account for the lion’s share of Craig Patel’s operating costs at his Wash Tub II laundromat on Forest Avenue in Portland.
“It’s a big part of our costs,” Patel said, “and obviously it’s going to cost us.”
By some estimates, the supply share of Mainers’ electricity bills – typically covering around 40 percent of the total – will increase from 60 to 80 percent in January.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission will meet next week to consider bids from generators to provide “standard offer” electricity that will set the market price for electricity used by most Maine. However, increases in the cost of producing electricity, including high natural gas prices, have led analysts to predict that tariffs will have to increase from January 1.
Patel thought he was ahead a year ago when he switched the dryers in his laundromat to natural gas. But the water, sewer and electric bills for his clothes washers remain the biggest utility bills he faces each month, and he worries about the impact of higher electric bills.
He’s been able to stay the course in recent years on what he charges customers for their laundry, but Patel said a big jump in electricity could mean he will have to pass on those higher costs.
“On January 1, we may have to (raise prices). It depends on how the electricity plays out, ”Patel said, noting that resisting the increase in its prices“ is getting more and more difficult ”.
The rate hike is likely to strain the budgets of owners of small businesses like Patel and residents who are also likely to face higher bills for fuel oil and natural gas to keep their homes warm. However, many of the groups that provide assistance to these residents say their assistance programs are doing well as winter approaches.
HELP FOR GROUPS
“We have fully anticipated these rising costs… (and) we are in a very good position to help people,” said Scott Thistle, spokesperson for the Maine State Housing Authority.
Thistle said residents who turn to social service agencies to help pay their heating bills are asked if they are also struggling with utility bills. The housing authority will help these residents get a payment plan and then tap into a public fund to pay off the balance. This fund currently has nearly $ 8 million for assistance to public services, he said, and this is in addition to nearly $ 40 million from the federal government to help low-income residents with pay their heating bills.
Central Maine Power Co. also works with social service agencies to help people pay their electricity bills. The expected increase this winter is due to higher prices charged by power producers and not by CMP, which charges the cost of delivering electricity, not production costs.
CMP wants to make sure customers can keep track of their invoices, said Linda Ball, vice president of customer service for the company.
Public and government programs offer a variety of methods to help, Ball said. For example, a program helps people eligible for heating assistance deal with overdue electricity bills. Eligible customers can benefit from a program to pay each month’s bill as it falls due and CMP will credit a portion of that payment against the overdue balance.
Ball, however, said many customers are reluctant to deal with overdue invoices and delay calling CMP to see what help is available.
“Give us a call, we’ll talk and we can explain to you what we can do,” she said.
CMP also offers a few methods that allow customers to regularly check their electricity consumption, which allows them to change their usage, “so that at the end of the month you don’t get sticker shock”, said Ball, and another program that provides customers with regular updates on energy use by text, email, or phone call.
DIFFICULTY FOR SOME CONSUMERS
Consumers say that an increase in electricity tariffs will cause financial hardship for many, who are already facing a huge increase in consumer prices.
The proposed supply tariff increase will not cause financial hardship for Peter Freilinger, but the Scarborough resident said he knows several families whose finances would be strained by a tariff increase. He said consumer price increases, which soared 6.2% last year, are straining families.
“The combined impact of this on top of the general increases in costs is affecting families I know, and this increase and the associated increases in heating oil and propane costs can be a drop in the camel’s back,” said Freilinger in an email. He also doesn’t think the increase will affect the way the Mainers use electricity, because the “Mainers I know don’t waste electricity.”
Dave Anderson uses a rooftop solar system, which provides him with the electricity he needs for his home in Waterboro. But he still has to pay CMP $ 13 per month for the connection fee. Anderson said he knew of seniors living on fixed incomes, “who will certainly suffer” from any increase in their electricity bills. He said consumer price increases were hurting many families in Maine, adding that now was not the time to increase electricity bills.
“It’s a bad time for electricity rates to go up because a lot of Mainers have switched to heat pumps,” Anderson said. “On the positive side, it could encourage more people to seek out community solar power or install residential solar power. Renewable energy prices are fixed, unlike fossil fuels which are a commodity. “
U.S. Senators from Maine said they were also working to try to keep up with rising Mainer’s electricity costs. Senator Susan Collins used her position on the Senate Appropriation Committee to help direct $ 35 million in heating assistance for low-income people in Maine this year. And Collins and Senator Angus King have urged the Biden administration to cut exports of liquefied natural gas to help maintain a cap on domestic natural gas prices – which are responsible for much of the expected increase in tariffs. electricity in Maine.
King recently secured a commitment from an Energy Department official to ensure that the impact on domestic natural gas prices is taken into account when the government is considering allowing exports of liquefied natural gas.
Efficiency Maine, a quasi-state agency, offers a number of rebate programs aimed at getting Mainers to use less electricity. For example, it works with retailers to offer rebates on energy efficient LED bulbs and rebate programs for higher efficiency electric water heaters.
Michael Stoddard, the agency’s executive director, said the easiest and most effective way to cut utility bills is to use LED bulbs.
Last year, Mainers used the agency’s programs to save 175 million kilowatt-hours and the lifetime savings for the various products it helps purchase are $ 245 million, Stoddard said.
He said Efficiency Maine also helps businesses and institutions, such as schools, reduce their energy use and save money.
“This is going to be quite important as we move into this era of higher electricity costs,” he said.
Editor-in-chief Dennis Hoey contributed to this story