Maine clean energy advocates say it’s time to revisit and ramp up time-of-use rates, and the state’s major utilities and several other stakeholders agree.
Meeting the state’s climate goals could add significant load to the state’s grid as drivers switch to electric cars and buildings abandon fossil fuels for heating.
Unless some customers can be persuaded to put off drying clothes, running dishwashers or charging vehicles until nighttime, that new demand could force expensive upgrades to the system and make it harder to eliminate fossil fuels.
That’s where time-of-use rates come into play. Unlike traditional flat rates, time-of-use rates charge customers different prices at different times of the day. Often this means customers pay a relatively expensive rate during the busiest hours of the day and less expensive rates during off-peak hours.
State legislation introduced this year, as well as a recent report on the future of Maine’s electric grid, called on state regulators to investigate how to roll out time-of-use rates on a broader scale than what’s currently offered.
“We’ve been, in Maine, interested in convening a conversation around grid modernization for a while,” said Rob Wood, director of government relations and climate policy for the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy, which convened a stakeholder group last September to build on the recommendations of an energy-focused working group within the Maine Climate Council.
The 35-member group, which the Nature Conservancy convened in partnership with the Great Plains Institute, included renewable energy developers, clean energy and consumer advocates, state government officials and representatives from both of Maine’s investor-owned utilities. Its final report, issued in April, included nine broad recommendations to advance the state’s grid modernization efforts. (The report received funding from the Barr Foundation, which also provides funding to the Energy News Network.)
Jeff Marks, the Maine director at Acadia Center and a stakeholder group member, said a time-of-use rate should include an opt-out option. On the one hand, this option adds a layer of protection for customers who often have limited means and schedules that don’t allow flexibility to change their electricity use. At the same time, automatically enrolling all customers and allowing them to opt out if they choose almost certainly guarantees higher uptake than trying to get customers to sign up on their own.
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