- What Should Consumers Know About Competitive Electricity Providers
As competition increases in the residential electric supply industry in Maine, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) wants to educate consumers about how competition works.
How did Maine come to have competition in electric supply?
The law that required the restructuring of the electric utility industry in Maine was passed in March 2000. This change provided Maine consumers with the ability to choose their electricity supplier - the company that supplies their electric energy. Until 2000, a single utility company, regulated by the Commission, supplied and delivered electricity. With electric restructuring, Maine began to develop a competitive market for electricity supply. This market developed quickly for larger commercial and industrial consumers, who have a number of choices for their electricity supplier. Many small consumers, like residential and small businesses, are also now able to choose their electricity supplier.
Customers without a choice, or those who do not wish to choose, are automatically provided with Standard Offer Service.
Delivery service is still provided by the local utility (now called a distribution company), such as Versant Power, Central Maine Power, or one of Maine's consumer owned utilities.
What is a competitive electric provider (CEP)?
A CEP is a company that supplies electricity to Maines residences, businesses and other entities that use electricity. Each CEP is licensed by the MPUC and CEPs compete for business by offering lower prices, renewable energy options, or other incentives.
What are the benefits of competition in electricity supply?
Shifting to a CEP could lower a customers rate on the supply portion of their bill, or could support other policies (such as developing renewable energy).
Why is this information important now?
CEPs have recently begun to actively market their service to small commercial and residential customers in Maine. This contact has been in the form of television, radio and newspaper ads, as well as marketing telephone calls.
How do customers choose an Electricity supplier?
All customers may choose their electricity supplier either by selecting a CEP or remaining on the Standard Offer default service. For a list of suppliers, go to the MPUC's on-line supplier list at https://www.maine.gov/mpuc/. Customers can compare an offer from a CEP with the Standard Offer rate by reviewing their bills (if they are on the Standard Offer), or by visiting the MPUCs website to see the current standard offer. Once a residential or small commercial customer has enrolled with a CEP, the CEP is required to provide a "Terms of Service" document to the customer within 30 days. This document is required to contain information relating to price, contract terms, resource mix, and emissions. CEPs are also required to provide customers with the right to rescind the contractual agreement within 5 days of the customers receipt of the terms of service document.
How can customers make sure they have the electric supplier they want?
Consumers should make sure only the provider they have chosen or the standard offer provider appear on their bill.
Customers can take the following steps to avoid unauthorized changes, and, if your service is somehow switched without approval, to catch the problem quickly:
Read your bill. An important step to catch an unintended or unauthorized electric supplier change quickly is to read your bill thoroughly each month. If you see you are receiving services from a company you have not selected, call that company and tell them you dispute the change of your electric supply service to their company. You should then contact your electric utility or your CEP to ask to be switched back to them. Finally, you can call the MPUC to file a complaint against the CEP that enrolled you without your authorization.
Ask questions if you are contacted by a CEP or are considering changing to a CEP:
What will I pay per "kilowatt hour" (kWh) of electricity?
Are there any additional customer charges or other recurring fees?
- Contact the MPUC. If you have questions about CEPs or think you have been switched to a CEP without your authorization, please contact the MPUC toll-free at 1-800-452-4699.
- Is this offer a fixed rate offer? If not, how can it change, and how do I find out when, and by how much, the rate will change?
- Is there a contract? If so, how long is it for?
- Is a deposit required? If so, how much?
- What are my payment options?
- What happens when my contract period expires?
- What if I miss a payment?
- Is there a penalty if I break the contract?
- What can I do to prevent unwanted telemarketing calls?
To prevent unwanted telemarketing calls, there are two Do-Not-Call Lists you can join. One is maintained by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and applies to consumer merchandise telemarketers. The United States Government Federal Trade Commission (FTC) maintains the other. We suggest you enter your name on both Do Not Call Lists.
Direct Marketing Association Do Not Call List.
To add your name and number to the Direct Marketing Association Do-Not-Call List, write to:
Telephone Preference Center
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 1559
Carmel, NY 10512
Federal Trade Commission Do Not Call List
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also created a Do-Not-Call List, which makes it easier for you to stop getting telemarketing calls. You can register online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling toll-free 1-888-382-1222, TTY 1-866-290-4236, from the telephone number you wish to register. Registration is free.
- Learn More About the Maine Green Power
Maine Green Power allows you to choose clean, local renewable energy for your home or business. Mainers can now match their electric use with green power produced in Maine. It's an easy affordable step that lets you support electricity which matches your values. To learn more about the program, please check out the frequently asked questions page.
- How do Maine's electricity costs compare with those of the region?
Maine’s electric prices track those of the New England region and, particularly for businesses, tend to track lower than those of the rest of New England (see figures below):
New England as a region has higher electricity costs than other regions in the nation because it does not have its own indigenous power supply like the coal of the south or the oil of Texas or big hydro of the northwest.
Maine’s electricity supply costs are determined by the New England wholesale market prices, which generally track the cost of natural gas fueled generation. Natural gas costs have declined in recent years due to over-supply from depressed demand as a result of the national and global recession and recent discoveries of natural gas supply in shale. Wholesale electricity prices in New England have declined similarly, and have resulted in reductions – in turn – to retail supply prices in Maine as new supply (such as for standard offer service) is acquired at these reduced price levels.
The price of electricity for Maine customers includes several separate elements. Supply (includes energy generation, capacity, and ancillary costs) is determined by competitive markets and not regulated by the Commission. Distribution is provided by the utilities and regulated by the Commission. Transmission costs are regulated by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC – a federal regulatory body). Stranded costs are a small and declining component of delivery (for example, less than ½ cent per kilowatt hour for Central Maine Power).
The link below provides a comparison of the average price of electricity to ultimate customers for residential, commercial, industrial and transportation sectors.
- Where is natural gas service offered in Maine?
- Northern Utilities d/b/a Unitil currently serves customers in the greater Portland area, Lewiston, Auburn, Biddeford, Saco and Kittery.
- Bangor Gas serves customers in Bangor, Brewer, Old Town, Orono and Veazie, and is installing pipeline to serve Bucksport.
- Maine Natural Gas currently serves customers in Windham, Gorham, Bowdoin, Topsham, Freeport and Brunswick, and is installing pipeline to serve in Augusta.
- Summit Natural Gas of Maine, Inc. is authorized to serve customers in towns throughout the Kennebec Valley region, from Richmond to Augusta to Madison and is currently installing pipeline to bring service to several of these municipalities. Summit has also been selected by the Towns of Cumberland, Yarmouth & Falmouth to provide natural gas distribution service.
Each of these companies may expand to serve additional municipalities as new customers request service. Companies typically choose to expand when the revenues from new customers cover the costs to provide service. Often a utility will expand its mains to a large, "anchor" customer and then seek to add small customers located along the main.
For more information, please check out natural gas distributors.
- Does the MPUC regulate propane?
The MPUC does not regulate propane rates but is responsible for conducting safety inspections on all “jurisdictional” propane facilities. Jurisdictional propane systems are those serving ten or more residential customers, or two or more customers served in a public place, from a single or a manifolded-tank system.
- How can I compare the price for natural gas with the price for oil or electricity?
Heating fuels are measured in different units, making cost comparisons difficult. For example, electricity is sold by the kilowatt hour, fuel oil is sold by the gallon and gas is measured by the cubic foot or therm. In addition the efficiency that these fuels are burned at varies greatly with the equipment design and condition. To make a meaningful comparison of energy commodities, you must convert physical units of measure and the energy content of each fuel to comparable units. You can read more about this on the Department of Energy’s web page at http://www.eia.doe.gov/neic/infosheets/apples.html.
- What is "Standard Offer Service"?
Standard Offer Service is the electricity supply provided to all consumers who do not have a choice, or do not choose, a competitive electric supplier.
- What is the “Winter Disconnect” period?
Special payment arrangements available for customers of electric and natural gas utilities during the Winter months
It is the Commission's policy that during the winter months, when severe weather conditions can pose a threat to health and safety, residential customers of electric and gas utilities should not be disconnected because of their inability to pay the entire amount owed by the due date of a bill.
During the period November 15 through April 15, customers who cannot pay their utility bill because of reasons that may cause their households to be deprived of food, medicine, heat or some other necessity can declare eligibility for a Special Payment Arrangement. Customers whose income does not exceed 150% of federal poverty guidelines or who are eligible to participate in one of the following programs may qualify for a Special Payment Arrangement:Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
If you have any questions regarding options for avoiding the threat of winter disconnection of your electric or natural gas service, please call the Maine Public Utilities Commission's Consumer Assistance Hotline at (800) 452-4699 or (207) 287‑1597. You can also reach the Maine PUC at (800) 437-1220 (TTY Relay), (207) 287-1039 (fax), or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Special Payment Arrangement can be an arrangement that allows the customer to pay less than the amount of each current bill during the winter months. At the time of the March billing, the utility adds the estimated amount of bills from April through September to the March account balance and divides by 7. The result is the amount the customer will pay in 7 equal monthly installments by the billing dates from April through October. This arrangement requires that the customer pay the account balance plus all future bills through and including the September bill by November 1.
A Special Payment Arrangement can also be an arrangement that allows the customer to pay a levelized amount each month. This arrangement is similar to a budget arrangement in that the account balance owed at the time the arrangement is established is added to estimated bills through the following September. The total of these figures is divided by the number of monthly payments that will be made to bring the account current by November 1.
There are two benefits to these Special Payment Arrangements. First, the customer is assured that payments during the winter months will be affordable and the danger of winter disconnection is avoided. Second, as long as the customer makes and keeps a Special Payment Arrangement, the utility is prohibited from assessing late payment charges on the overdue amount.
- What Low Income Assistance Programs are available?
Low Income Assistance Programs
Financial assistance may be available to help qualified low-income consumers with their electric, gas, telephone or water bills. Special payment plans or assistance may be also available through your electric distribution utility and local telephone provider. Funding for some State and Federal programs has been augmented through the CARES Act due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and may only be available for a limited time.
Statewide Electric Low-Income Assistance Plan (LIAP)
The MPUC and the Maine State Housing Authority administer a statewide Low-Income Assistance Program (LIAP), which disburses more than $7 million annually to assist qualified low-income customers with their electric bills. Qualifying customers receive a credit on their electric bill that is based on their income and electricity usage. Eligibility to participate in the LIAP is based on a customer's eligibility for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Customers can apply for the LIAP either through their local Community Action Agency or their utility. A full list of CAP agencies can be found here: https://www.mainehousing.org/programs-services/energy/liheap-agency-contacts
Arrearage Management Program (AMP)
Central Maine Power Co. and Versant Power each operate an AMP that assists eligible low-income residential customers who are in arrears on their electricity bills. Customers who are eligible for LIHEAP and have an arrearage of $500 or more that is at least 90 days old are eligible to participate in the program. Participating customers will have 1/12 of their arrearage amount, up to a maximum of $300, forgiven every month that they pay their current bill on time. To enroll in an AMP, customers should contact either their local Community Action Agency or their utility.
Heat Pump Program
Maine State Housings heat pump program pays for the cost and installation of a heat pump for eligible Maine homeowners. Heat pumps are a popular and efficient tool to help heat homes in cold climates and can help save on heating costs.
Telephone-Link-Up and Lifeline Programs
The Link-Up Program provides qualifying low-income households reduced installation costs for new service hook-ups. The Lifeline program provides qualifying households with a significant credit for the basic service portion of local telephone bills or internet broadband service. These programs together help Maine lead the nation in percentage of its households with local telephone and internet broadband service. Some local phone and internet broadband companies offer these programs, others, do not. For more information on these programs, or if you think that you might qualify, contact your local telecommunications company or your local Community Action Agency. If you still have questions after speaking with these groups, contact the Commissions Consumer Assistance and Safety Division at 1-800-452-4699.
Customers of Northern Utilities, Inc. d/b/a Unitil, Bangor Gas and Maine Natural Gas receiving service under the residential heating and non-heating rates may be eligible to receive a 30% discount on their delivery and gas supply rates. The discount will apply to all customers identified by the Maine State Housing Authority as eligible for LIHEAP. Once enrolled, customers will receive the discount for 12 consecutive months.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), administered by the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA), provides assistance to low income homeowners and renters to help pay heating costs. Eleven Community Action Programs distribute the funds throughout Maine. The program is not intended to pay for all heating costs, but to assist in paying the heating bills. LIHEAP assists those who heat with oil, propane, natural gas, electricity and other sources. Customers can apply for the LIHEAP through their local Community Action Agency. A full list of CAP agencies can be found here: https://www.mainehousing.org/programs-services/energy/liheap-agency-contacts
The energy crisis intervention program (ECIP), part of LIHEAP, also administered by MSHA and distributed through CAPS assists customers who are in imminent danger of disconnection. Customers must have an active disconnection notice to qualify.
Maine State Housings Weatherization Program provides grants to low-income homeowners and renters to reduce energy costs by improving home energy efficiency. Maine Housing offers this program to consumers through Community Action Program agencies, who screen people for eligibility as part of the HEAP application process.
General Assistance (GA)
You may qualify for GA if you dont have the income or resources to meet basic needs for you and your family. GA can help with fuel and utilities, among other things. You can apply in person at your local municipal office. If you are unable to reach your local GA office or you have questions or concerns, call the toll-free hotline at 1-800-442-6003.
For those who have exhausted all resources and need assistance with utility bills, 211 Maine may be able to help find local resources. 211 Maine is a free, confidential resource that helps connect people in Maine to needed health and human services. On a limited basis, through the Keep ME Warm Fund, 211 Maine is able to provide financial assistance to low income families in emergencies.
- Common questions about shopping for Local Telephone Service
Do I have to choose a new local service provider?
No. If you do, though, you may be able to save money, have more options or get better services.
What exactly am I choosing?
You are choosing the provider that provides your basic local service. Basic local service allows you to make local calls. Your local provider may also provide your in-state toll or state-to-state long-distance service if you choose them for those services. Some provide these other services, some may not.
What is basic local service?
Basic local service includes dial tone and touch-tone service, and a local calling plan for making and receiving telephone calls in your local area. Basic local service also includes the federal line cost charge, the federal and state universal service fund surcharges, the E911 services surcharge, and the school and library fund surcharge.
Do local service providers have to offer me service?
All local service providers do not have to offer you service. Many of these providers, however, are required to make reasonable efforts to help you get and keep your local phone service, because they receive special federal funding to help as many customers as possible keep local service. These providers pass this funding along to qualifying low-income consumers by offering special discounts – known as the Link-Up and Lifeline discounts -- to help them get and stay connected. If you think you qualify for these discounts, ask your local service provider, or any providers you are considering, if they offer Link-Up and Lifeline discounts.
Are all local service plans the same, except for the cost?
No. Some may have different local service areas, or may not offer access to enhanced 911 services.
May I keep my telephone number if I change my local service provider?
Yes, in most cases, if you are staying in the same location. (You may also keep your local directory listing.)
- How is Natural Gas Service for Residential Customers regulated?
While residential natural gas consumers in some states may choose who supplies their natural gas, in Maine natural gas supply and distribution service for residential customers is a monopoly service and these customers receive both their natural gas supply and distribution service from their local gas utility.
The Commission regulates the rates and service quality of Maine’s local natural gas utilities. The rate for the natural gas supply is adjusted each season to reflect changes in the underlying cost of natural gas. Service quality is regulated using a variety of methods. For example, the Commission requires Northern Utilities to follow a service quality plan with performance targets in all areas where the utility interacts with customers, e.g., meter reading, billing, contact center performance, and overall service. If Northern Utilities does not meet its service quality targets, the Commission may assess penalties based on the degree to which the service quality targets are missed.
- What is In-state Toll Service?
In-state toll service includes calling plans for calls that you make within Maine but outside your local calling area.
- What is Basic Local Service?
The Commission does not regulate state-to-state (“inter-state”) or international calling services nor do we generally accept complaints about these services. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates these services.
The Commission however, does take complaints against all service providers (including those providing state-to-state toll services) who “slam” a customer’s phone service, i.e., who change the service provider for a customer without the customer’s authorization.
- How do I shop for Telephone Services?
Find out which local service providers serve your area by watching for their advertisements. You can also figure out which providers are registered to serve in Maine by looking at the PUC’s lists of registered local and in-state toll telephone service providers, or find out which ones are offering the best deals or doing the most business in Maine by checking out the Maine Public Advocate’s Ratewatcher Telecom Guide. Then contact the ones you believe are serving your area.
Review your local calling patterns to determine the average length and number of local and long-distance calls you make in a month. Different service providers may offer different local calling areas, affecting which calls are toll calls.
Make a list of the optional services you want to keep.
Compare rates and service plans of your current provider with the plans of other providers. For a comparison of the rates of many providers, check out the Maine Public Advocate’s Ratewatcher Telecom Guide or call us for a copy.
If you are a low-income customer, ask your current and preferred local service providers if you are eligible for any assistance programs such as Link-Up or Lifeline. Find out the total cost for monthly basic service and connection charges after any assistance credits are applied to your bill. Not all companies offer these credits.
If you are a business customer, you may find discounts available, depending on how many lines you have, how much you and your employees use the phone, and whether you buy bundled service.
Decide which plan best fits your calling patterns and needs. While selecting a local service provider, you may also want to compare in-state toll and interstate long-distance plans.
Notify the new provider that you want to sign up for its services.
Your new provider will notify you with a date when service will start.
- What are Optional Services?
Optional services are those like call waiting, caller ID and 3-way calling that are offered by local service providers and sometimes other companies. Charges for services like these are not a part of your basic local service.
- What can I do to prevent unauthorized service charges?
There are several things you can do to avoid being a victim of cramming (the unauthorized addition of charges for goods or services on your telephone bill) and slamming (the unauthorized switching of a customer from one carrier to another).
- Review your telephone bill each month to look for unusual charges, new services you did not order, or new carriers you did not authorize.
- Read the fine print on promotions you receive in the mail (or elsewhere) before agreeing to participate – regardless of whether the promotion is for a telephone service or some other kind of service or product.
- Ask telemarketers to send you the information in writing before you agree to anything.
Steps to Take If You Are a Victim of Cramming or Slamming:
- Contact your local service provider. Register your complaint. Ask to be reconnected to your chosen provider or have any unauthorized charges removed from your bill.
- Contact the provider that you were switched to or that placed unordered service s on your bill.
- File a complaint with the Commission’s Consumer Assistance Division by using our on-line complaint form or by calling us toll-free at 1-800-452-4699.
- How do I choose an Electricity supplier?
To choose an electricity supplier, compare product features and rates, as well as any special supplier services, with those for Standard Offer Service. For a list of suppliers serving your area, contact the Commission, or check out the Commission's on-line supplier list. For information about Standard Offer rates, check your bill if you are currently on standard offer service, or visit our Standard Offer webpage.
You should compare the uniform disclosure labels for any competitive supply options you are considering with the disclosure labels for standard offer service.