Prior to 2000, utilities in ME were provided by only one supplier and distributor, regulated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, or MPUC. Since the turn of the millennium, this has changed greatly, and the energy landscape in the state is more competitive and consumer-minded. Instead of one company overseeing supply and delivery, dozens of suppliers and a few delivery businesses form the power marketplace in the area. This has resulted in better pricing and service for consumers, as they can now pick the company that targets their needs.
The MPUC’s mission is to oversee the trade of electric, gas, water and telecommunications to ensure that consumers in the state have access to reliable and fair rates that work for both the customer and company.
The state passed a law in 2000 requiring a restructuring of how energy companies are presented to residential and commercial clients. Now, 13 years later, there is a healthy market for industrial utilities in ME, and residential consumers are gaining access to new suppliers all the time. While suppliers are not regulated by the MPUC, delivery businesses are, and they must also be licensed by the MPUC. This means that only reputable operations are represented by the sole regulatory agency in the state. Customers have reaped several benefits from this, though lower pricing may be chief among them.
The New England region in the U.S. consistently has some of the highest energy prices in the nation. According to the MPUC, this is due to a couple of factors, but the biggest reason is because there are no indigenous power generation capabilities in the area. Unlike the South, which has access to several coal deposits, Texas, which has access to vast oil reserves or the Pacific Northwest, which produces a lot of hydroelectric power, New England’s power costs are dependent on the wholesale energy market. For the most part, utilities in ME are also derived from this market. This has been a problem in the past, as the cost of power has climbed steadily, but with the recent discoveries of natural gas deposits in shale and the recession, the price of electricity has come down some.
However, this alone does not explain why customer in the state have recently started paying less than those in other states. Utilities in ME have been trending in a more affordable direction for several years, and this is especially true for commercial and industrial customers. As of fall 2010, the average price per kWh for residential customers was 15.89 cents, for commercial clients it was 12.13 cents and for industrial consumers it was 7.98 cents. In total, the average was right at 12 cents a kWh, which compares favorably to the rest of the New England region. Of the eight states that are part of this area, only one – Pennsylvania – had a lower average rate than those buying utilities in ME. This is, however, greatly due to their extremely low industrial rates, which were also second lowest in the region. Residential rates ranked fourth in affordability, though only Pennsylvania had a rate under 15 cents a kWh, and commercial rates were second lowest.