Better Than a Kite and a Key-Maybe

By Kit Hayden | Oct 30, 2012
Photo by: qrz.com

Newcastle — Iberdrola probably doesn’t ring a bell for most.  It is a Spanish private multinational electric utility company based in Bilbao, Spain.  According to Wikipedia, Iberdrola has a workforce of around 33,000 employees in over 40 countries on four continents serving around 30 million customers.  Do you care?  Probably not.  More familiar to most is Central Maine Power (CMP) which provides electricity to 600,000 in central and southern Maine.  Guess what!  CMP is owned by Iberdrola!  And you thought it was a local company.  You’re not unhappy to depend on a giant corporation located in a bankrupt EU country are you?

Personally I have come to accept the existence of megalithic corporations since there’s nothing I can do about them.  I fatalistically assume that one day absolutely everything will be controlled by a single entity, call it Gargantuan, Overreaching Distribution Corporation (GOD Inc.)  The main healthy food subsidiary will doubtless be Nestlé: “We employ around 330,000 people in over 150 countries and have 461 factories or operations in 83 countries. Nestlé sales for 2011 were almost CHF 83.7 bn.”  Wow!  What’s a CHF?  I thought that stood for Congestive Heart Failure.  Nestlé caused eighty-three billion heart failures last year?  There aren’t that many people in the world (yet).  “No, Stupid!  CHF is the Swiss franc.”  “Oh, sorry.”

Although I accept our industrial giants I still want to know a bit about the details of those that immediately impact me, e.g., CMP.  As companies go, CMP seems relatively straightforward.  They began as an electricity supplier (hydropower) in 1899, taking the name CMP in 1910.  By their account, over the next century the energy sources expanded into oil-fired, nuclear, and biomass generation (no demon coal?)  In 2000, the Maine legislature passed a utility restructuring policy such that now CMP is not required to source the energy but only to distribute it.  Hence the dual charges on your monthly statement: electricity delivery and electricity supply.

Only recently did I learn that I could choose my electricity supplier.  The default for CMP is the Standard Offer Service (currently NextEra Energy Power Marketing (2/3) and Constellation Energy Commodities Group Maine (1/3)), supervised by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.  By law (?) CMP is not at liberty to promote other choices, but they do make available, on their web site, alternatives.  There are twelve suppliers from which you might choose. Probably the easiest to get at is Electricity Maine for which you can sign up, very simply, at www.electricityme.com.  This option was recommended to me by my sister and also by the chap servicing my furnace.  Both claim to have gained substantial savings over the Standard Offer Service.  True?

The price per KWH with Standard Offer electricity is currently $0.07438.  With Electricity Maine the rate is $0.0707, meaning that you can realize a five percent profit by switching.  This may not seem like much, but compare it to the one percent cd interest offered by our beloved banks, and every little bit helps.  I have signed up.  I also like the idea of dealing with a small, local company.

Electricity Maine claims to purchase electricity through the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL).  They helpfully suggest that I can learn more by visiting www.nepoolgis.com.  Well, not really, nothing could be more obfuscatory than that site.  I am further confused by learning that ISO-NE was created in 1997 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as a replacement for  NEPOOL. I’m buying electricity from something that no longer exists?  It’s a “mystery wrapped in an enigma.”

It is very difficult to establish what produces the electricity we buy.  Electricity Maine tosses out “electricity generators such as, wind, hydro and biomass plants.”  Of course!  Green, green, green.  Whatever happened to those CO2-belching coal plants in the battleground states?  They still produce forty percent of our electricity; none for Electricity Maine?  But I don’t want to get into an argument about the efficiency of those green methods.  I’m all for green and happy that the energy produced from coal is decreasing with each passing year.

I understand that many people, for many reasons, are unhappy with the new smart meters.  Health dangers, loss of privacy, hacking are cited.  I am rather more disturbed that this is just one more example of disappearing employment; no more meter readers.  We need these simple jobs.  However, don’t fault your local CMP.  This change was forced by Iberdrola who saw the opportunity of raking in federal stimulus funds to pay for the meters.  Swell! Our tax money flows to Iberia.

Let me finish this with a pat on the back for CMP. The price of electricity with Standard Offer service has fallen from $0.100 in 2007 to the current $.074.  One surmises that the twenty-five percent decrease has been caused by competition among providers.  It’s hard not to notice that this performance is quite different from that of fuel oil providers.  Why is that?  ‘Tis a puzzlement.

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