PORTLAND, Maine — Lawmakers on Tuesday gave final passage to new rules for companies selling electricity directly to Maine homeowners. Gov. Paul LePage now has 10 days to sign the legislation, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

The Senate on Tuesday voted unanimously to pass the bill to require new disclosures and limit price increases from retail electricity companies, in response to a Bangor Daily News investigation that found Maine residential customers have paid at least $50 million more than if they received the default power rate.

[ Mainers spent $50 million they didn’t need to on electricity]

Customers and consumer advocates said that many customers were charged higher rates when they were automatically re-enrolled in a plan, at a higher rate.

Those companies, also called competitive electricity providers, or CEPs, are separate from utilities like Emera Maine or Central Maine Power Co., which operate the poles and wires that move electricity around the state.

The bill, sponsored by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, requires retail power suppliers to provide additional notification by mail to customers when their contracts are up for renewal. The current rules allow notice only by email, and a group of customers have alleged that the state’s largest supplier, Electricity Maine, deliberately tailored those messages to get flagged as spam.

The company has denied that allegation as part of a potential class-action lawsuit that followed the Bangor Daily News report.

[ How electricity providers siphoned millions from Maine customers]

If that re-enrollment offer includes a price increase of 20 percent or more, the new law would require an affirmative response from the customer before the company can re-enroll that customer. Customers in those cases who don’t respond would be returned to the default price set each year by state regulators, called the standard offer.

At current rates, a 20 percent rate increase would amount to about $6 a month for the average Maine electricity customer. The limit relates only to contracts set for fixed terms. It does not deal with variable rate contracts, which can change freely from month to month.

Separately, the bill would prohibit a company from charging a termination fee for re-enrollments done without specific consent from the customer.

The state’s outgoing public advocate, Tim Schneider, said the rules would put Maine “on the cutting edge” for consumer protections regarding retail electricity providers.

The bill also directs the Maine Public Utilities Commission to study price differences between competitive electricity suppliers and the standard offer.

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Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.