Workers from Cianbro and Shaw Brothers work to install Summit Natural Gas piping along Cumberland Foreside in 2014. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

A controversial request that could have sent rates for Summit Natural Gas of Maine customers soaring 200% over seven years has been significantly reduced, following negotiations between the company and Maine’s Office of the Public Advocate.

The settlement, announced Wednesday, must be reviewed by the Public Utilities Commission. If the agreement is approved, it will lead to a 49% increase over the next 4 ½ years, said Bill Harwood, the state’s public advocate.

“This is a substantially more realistic proposal for Summit to submit to the PUC, and our office will be recommending its approval,” Harwood said.

In addition, the company has agreed to write off $53 million of its $325 million total investment in Maine as being “imprudently incurred,” Harwood said. The write-off cost would be absorbed by shareholders, not customers.

Rates would go up 9% in April, rather than the 30% hike Summit was seeking to begin in January. That measure should help customers get through a winter of overall high energy prices. In addition, the proposed seven-year rate plan has been shortened to run until June 2027.

“The parties … were able to agree on a rate plan that balances the operating costs and investments of the company with its responsibility to provide safe and reliable service to its customers at just and reasonable rates,” Summit spokesperson Lizzy Reinholt said. “In addition, we understand that customers will be facing higher than normal energy costs this winter, and for this reason, we offered to delay any rate changes until the spring of 2023.”


Summit’s rates already are the highest in Maine. The company’s initial proposal would have led to one of the largest rate increases ever for a Maine utility.

In a separate case last September, the PUC approved a “cost of gas adjustment” for Summit that will double rates this winter. But that change reflects wholesale purchasing of natural gas in a volatile market, and won’t add any profit for Summit.

Ten years ago, Summit Natural Gas of Maine laid out plans for the most aggressive natural gas distribution project in the state’s history. The Colorado-based company pledged to spend $350 million within five years to connect 15,000 homes and businesses in the Kennebec Valley and Portland’s northern suburbs with natural gas, which at the time was half the price of heating oil. Gas expansion also was seen as a way to diversify the state’s energy supply with a cleaner-burning, domestic fuel.

But Summit stumbled out of the starting gate and has never been able to catch up with those ambitious goals.

Summit has spent more than $329 million on capital investments in Maine. And the company has hooked up fewer than 5,000 customers and has the highest natural gas rates in the state, charges regulated by the PUC.

“We are in a dynamic era for energy costs,” Harwood said, “and Maine ratepayers are being hit hard with high prices for every energy source. World events are driving much of this, so it’s imperative we identify what’s an unavoidable cost and what’s not, as well as what’s a reasonable for customers to pay and what’s not.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.