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Maine Electricity Supplier's Rate Claims Questioned
05/23/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

State regulators have some questions for Maine's largest alternative electricity supplier, Electricity Maine. The Auburn-based group has attracted an estimated 185,000 customers over the last year or so by advertising itself as a lower-cost option to the so-called "standard offer" rate, which is set by the state. But questions have been raised about that claim. Tom Porter has more.

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Narrator in Electricity Maine ad: "Take a a look at your power bill on the second page. Does it say your supplier is standard offer? Then you're paying too much. Change your electricity supplier to Electricity Maine and save every month on the power supply portion of your bill. Call or go to Lower your monthly expenses and enroll with Electricity Maine. It's your best choice."

But Electricity Maine's prices aren't always cheaper, and that's why Tom Welch of the Maine Public Utilities Commission has submitted a letter to Electricity Maine seeking answers to some questions about its marketing campaigns.

"I think it was prompted, in part, by some radio ads that members of our staff had heard," Welch says, "and therefore raised some questions in the staffs' mind."

Welch says the letter asks specificially about the statement saying, "If your power bill says standard offer, you're paying too much."

"If someone were to make the bold statement that every one of their rates is below the standard offer, then that would certainly raise some questions," he says, "because, as I understand it, there may be at least some rates that are not."

Indeed, the Web site of the Maine Public Advocate's Office shows Electricity Maine's current 12-month fixed term rate is nearly 15 percent higher than the standard offer rate - about 7.8 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 6.8 cents.

Electricity Maine co-founder Emile Clavet says the company will review the commission's questions. "I don't believe that we've been misleading to the public," Clavet says. "And to the extent that we've had any errors or omissions in our ads. we would certainly quickly correct those ads and fix those mistakes."

Electricity Maine is one of seven companies offering competitive rates to residential consumers. Electricity Maine's Emile Clavet says the company still works to offer customers the cheapest long-term electricity. But in recognition of the fact that the increasingly competitive marketplace means it cannot always offer the cheapest price, he says the company's new ad campaign has a different emphasis.

Narrator in Electricity Maine ad: "At Electricity Maine we do one thing: provide competitive electricity rates. We're also a Maine company creating jobs here in Maine. We partner with local non-profits to create positive change."

"We liked the fact that we're local, we're creating jobs in Maine and we're helping local charities pursue their mission," Clavet says.

Clavet says Electricity Maine will respond to the PUC's letter in the next few days. The PUC will then decide whether to launch a formal investigation.


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