April 07, 2020

PUC staff backs rate hike > Hydro could get 10.63% increase

BANGOR — The long-anticipated state report on a Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. rate hike request recommends that the company be allowed to raise prices by 10.63 percent.

The report released this week was completed by staff at the Public Utilities Commission and brings nearly to a close a rate case started last March with a request for a three-step rate increase. This summer, Bangor Hydro changed its proposal to a rate hike of 15.58 percent.

The staff’s recommendation does not take into account any of the costs that Bangor Hydro has incurred in the recent ice storm and the continuing cleanup effort. As of Tuesday, Bangor Hydro estimated it had spent more than $5 million on the storm and recovery.

The three-member Public Utility Commission is expected to rule on the 10-month-old case before Feb. 2. If commissioners concur with their staff recommendation, the rate increase would raise an estimated $14 million in annual revenues for Bangor Hydro. That is nearly $10 million less than what the company originally requested.

While the recommendation is less than the Bangor Hydro proposal, it is still drawing criticism.

“They’re favoring the company and the shareholders,” said Stephen Ward, the director of the ratepayer-supported Office of the Public Advocate. “Bangor Hydro customers are going to be asked to dig pretty deep into their pockets.”

Ward said he does not support the staff recommendation and that he will be submitting his objections to it. Customers of Bangor Hydro have already voiced their condemnation of any rate increase at public hearings held this past summer in Bangor and Machias.

While not criticizing the staff recommendation, Bangor Hydro officials expressed disappointment on Tuesday after reviewing the report.

“It simply pushes the bills off to later,” said Robert Briggs, Bangor Hydro’s president and chief executive officer.

Briggs said that the company is still going to need to recover a number of costs associated with investments in the now-closed Maine Yankee nuclear power plant.

Because of the severe financial strain put on Hydro by the loss of power from Maine Yankee and the cost of replacing this power, Bangor Hydro has already received part of the rate hike request. In July, the company’s rates went up by 4 percent.

If the PUC staff recommendation is accepted, the balance of the 10 percent rate increase would likely be seen by customers on their bills in March.

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