Greg Sherman (right), general manager of Houlton Water Company, goes over some information with Mary McGillicuddy at the company's Bangor Street business location. HWC customers will not see the huge spike in electricity that others are seeing thanks to a long-term contract with a New Brunswick energy company. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — While many Maine residents will see considerably higher electricity bills starting in January, customers of Houlton Water Company will not see an increase in theirs for at least three more years.

That’s because Houlton Water Company is a consumer-owned utility, rather than investor-owned, giving it the freedom to set rates independent of the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The PUC announced substantial increases for both Versant Power and Central Maine Power customers on Wednesday following a competitive bidding process for standard offer prices required by law. Houlton Water Company’s roughly 5,500 customers will not see those increases thanks to a five-year contract signed in 2019. That will make Houlton’s electric rates one of the lowest in Maine until 2024.

“For the investor-owned transmission utility companies, like Versant and CMP, their standard offer is managed by the Maine PUC,” Houlton Water Company general manager Greg Sherman said. “[Consumer-owned utilities] are able to go out and solicit those bids ourselves.”

Sherman’s office has received a number of phone calls from local customers wondering if the hikes being reported for the larger utility companies would also affect their monthly bills, he said.

Versant Power customers, which include most of northern and central Aroostook County, will see an 89 percent increase in their rates next year as the standard offer for electricity jumps from 6.2 cents per kilowatt hour to 11.68 cents. That is an increase of $30 a month and $360 a year for the average customer using 550 kilowatt hours per month.

Central Maine Power customers will see an increase from 6.4 cents per kilowatt hour to 11.81 cents.

Houlton Water Company customers will continue to pay 6.2 cents per kilowatt hour for the next three years.

“We signed our contract with New Brunswick Energy Marketing in September of 2019,” Sherman said. “We now have a long-term supply and don’t foresee any issues that would raise rates for customers. It’s a bit of a guessing game, but we saw it as a very favorable deal for our customers.”

If Houlton customers were paying the new rates from Versant or CMP, they would be spending an additional $4.1 million a year (roughly $745 per customer). Negotiations for Houlton’s next contract will likely begin in 2023, but could happen sooner if the market conditions warrant it, Sherman said.

“You try to keep an eye on the market, and like we did this time, if the market looks favorable you lock it (contract) in,” Sherman said. “Because we did that this time, our customers won.”