Last night the Maine Public Utilities Commission heard testimony concerning a proposed rate hike request from Nothern Utilities from two people. The poorly attended hearing took place at the Abromson Center on the Portland USM campus.
In May of this year, Unitil filed with the MPUC a proposed distribution rate increase. The proposed increase would cover costs for capial improvements to the distribution of gas to its customers in the Portland area. This is the first time in 28 years that Unitil has requested a rate increase associated with “distribution” costs, not the cost of natural gas which has stabilized. After months of negotiations with the Office of the Public Advocate, it’s agreed that the rate increase would be 16% and that would amount to a $20. per month increase to residences.
The only elected official at the hearing was St. Rep. for District 119 Rep. Ben Chipman. Chipman told the PUC members that he represents a community of 9,000 people who are low income with an average household income of $22,000. Chipman urged the PUC to delay the implementation of the increases until May of 2012. “Many people in my district are already struggling as are people all over Maine. This increase starting in January 2012 is the worst time of the year to implement an increase,” Chipman said. “Most people have already planned their budgets for the coming winter heating season and this increase wasn’t planned for.” He also testified he’d just learned that Liheap, the fuel assistance program, will be cut in half from last year here in Maine. As it is proposed now, the increase is intended to occur in three phases; the first increase started November lst, the second increase would start in January 2012 and the third increase in May of 2012.
Rosemary Wheeler, 91, testified as well as Rep. Chipman. While she didn’t critize the increase directly, she said: “I have a lot of feeling for people who suffer at the hands of others. I visit OccupyMaine every day – trying make a better life for those in need. They are wonderful people trying to get the middle class back.”
The PUC expects to make a final decion on Tuesday, November 8th and it will be posted on its webpage.