ROCKPORT — The utilities of the future will look very different from those of the past. Central Maine Power Co. must stop looking in the rearview mirror, and instead use the current rate case as an opportunity to implement electric grid reforms that enable a cleaner and lower-cost energy future.

ENE (Environment Northeast) recently released EnergyVision, which shows that the New England states could reduce oil consumption and carbon emissions dramatically by switching from gasoline-powered vehicles to cleaner electric vehicles and oil-heated buildings to efficient heat pumps. According to EnergyVision, greater efficiency will deliver $19.5 billion in economic benefits and 51.3 million metric tons of avoided greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast alone.

ENE intervened in the CMP rate case to advance policies and rates that will help to create the grid of the future. Consumers should be allowed and encouraged to take advantage of an array of new energy options.

CMP’s proposal to divorce its earnings from the number of kilowatt-hours it sells, as almost every other utility in New England has already done, is overdue and welcome. Right now, the company has a financial incentive to promote electricity usage, which results in higher power bills and greater combustion of fossil fuels. The proposed revenue “decoupling” will align CMP’s incentives with those of its customers, and make them partners in efforts to save.

CMP’s proposed increase in customer charges from $5 to $20 per month over the next four years, however, will not serve customers well. This $20 charge could not be avoided by investing in clean energy or energy efficiency, thus reducing a customer’s incentive to make these choices.

At the same time, CMP proposes to recover less of its costs through the price of each kilowatt-hour a customer uses, so high-usage customers will pay less than they do today, while low-usage customers will pay more. CMP’s proposed changes penalize those who invest in smart measures to save, like more energy-efficient lights, appliances and equipment – and shut them off when not in use.

CMP’s proposal would limit consumer options. Increasingly, consumers and communities can choose to invest in small-scale wind and solar “distributed” generation at our homes and businesses. Lowering the per-kilowatt-hour charge and increasing the fixed customer charge would reduce the financial attractiveness of installing these systems.

Not only do distributed generation customers lower their own energy bills by receiving credit for every kilowatt-hour they generate, they also can help to reduce the energy bills of other customers.

Collectively, these systems help to reduce the need for expensive new power lines and the purchase of expensive power from fossil plants during peak hours, thereby reducing the costs of and emissions produced by the system.

CMP’s midcoast pilot project is proving that energy efficiency, energy storage and local power generation like solar photovoltaics can relieve stress on the grid during the “peak” hours, and at a much lower cost than building expensive new power lines. If Maine is to achieve its climate and energy goals, we must create a renewable-ready energy delivery system that is friendly to small, on-site renewable power generation.

Utility rates should be designed to advance a cleaner energy future that will free consumers to take advantage of new technologies, and help us end our dependence on imported oil and our growing dependence on natural gas. Rates should:

Facilitate investments in technologies that help control costs by better utilizing the grid.

Increase the value and deployment of clean distributed generation and energy technologies in order to reduce infrastructure costs.

Support and promote high-efficiency electric heating technology, electric vehicles and other resources in a manner that increases grid stability.

Drive deep and persistent energy savings, both in kilowatts and kilowatt-hours.

Complement and support net metering policies.

Consider bill impacts, affordability, low incomes, consumer choice and synergies such as the provision of backup service to the grid by electric vehicles.

All of these measures will support a shift to clean, reliable fuels and facilitate customer control and cost savings.

Preparing the 21st-century power grid for large-scale adoption of electric vehicles, air source heat pumps, clean distributed generation, renewable generation and high-efficiency equipment is critical. We must get CMP’s rates right to advance this cleaner energy future.

— Special to the Press Herald