Electricity customers in southern and central Maine accustomed to years of rate increases will get a welcome break next year when homeowners and small businesses who choose the state’s default price for power will see an average decrease of nearly 19 percent in that half of their bill.

The good news comes after the Maine Public Utilities Commission voted Wednesday to accept winning providers in the bidding process for its standard offer – the default price that about 85 percent of Mainers pay for electricity supply. The rate decrease, fueled mainly by a drop in the cost of natural gas, affects customers in areas served by Central Maine Power and takes effect on Jan. 1.

For home and small-business customers, standard offer rates in 2020 will fall from 9 cents per kilowatt hour to 7.3 cents. That will decrease a typical homeowner’s monthly bill – half of which is for the supply side of electricity and half for its delivery – from $95.53 to $86.18 for 550 kilowatt hours.

Midsize businesses also will benefit from the latest bids, with standard offer rates falling 22 percent, from 8.9 cents/kwh to 7 cents.

“We had quite a few bids and they were very competitive,” PUC Commissioner Bruce Williamson said after the deliberations.

The relief for household budgets may be short-lived, however. Regulators are considering a separate request to increase CMP’s delivery rates. They expect to make a decision by year’s end, but any change in delivery rates wouldn’t take effect until the summer.

Last year, the cost of electricity hit a 10-year high for most customers in southern and central Maine, where rates increased 14 percent, adding about $6 to the average monthly bill.

The rates announced Wednesday affect the majority of customers served by CMP who don’t choose to buy their electricity from a competitive supplier. Maine law requires the PUC to make sure electricity customers who don’t want to contract with retail suppliers have a default option.

Wholesale electricity prices in New England are driven primarily by the cost of fuel used to produce electricity and consumer demand, which is linked primarily to weather.

Natural gas-fired power plants generate roughly half of the electricity in the region, and the average price of gas has been down this year. September’s average price was the third lowest average for any month since March of 2003, according to ISO-New England, the regional grid operator.

“These lower prices reflect electricity supply-and-demand conditions in New England and their impact on wholesale energy markets,” Williamson said.

Wednesday’s outcome reflects the double-digit decreases announced a day earlier for customers of Emera Maine’s Bangor District.

Residents in eastern Maine will see their supply rate fall next year from 8.37/kwh to 6.88/kwh, or 18 percent. A typical Emera Maine residential customer who uses 500 kilowatt hours a month will save $7.45.  Monthly bills are expected to drop from about $89.05 to $81.60, an 8.4 percent percent decrease. That adds up to nearly $90 a year.

Under Maine’s 20-year-old restructuring law, CMP and Emera Maine deliver electricity, but don’t produce it.

Standard offer rates had been rising steadily in southern and central Maine since 2015, when the best bid came in at 6.5 cents/kwh. The rate hit 9 cents/kwh last year, the first time it had been that high since 2009.

Northern Maine electric customers also shared in the rate drops. Bids accepted for home and small-business customers by the PUC for Emera’s Maine Public District will translate into a 20 percent decrease, to 6.7 cents.

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