Maine Water seeks rate increase

Posted: Monday, November 10, 2014 12:00 pm (Link to Journal Tribune’s online story HERE.)

By LIZ GOTTHELF | Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — Maine Water has filed an application with the Maine Public Utilities Commission for an increase in rates in its Biddeford and Saco division, serving Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach and part of Scarborough.

The current rates in the Biddeford and Saco division are among the lowest in the state, with a typical residential customer paying $37.17 per quarter for 125 gallons of water per day. If the rate request is approved, the typical bill will increase by $1.53 a month in the first year, and $1.79 per month in the second year. The proposed new quarterly bill will be $47.10, as compared to the state average of $90 per quarter, or $1 a day, according to a prepared statement released by the company on Friday.

Maine Water is requesting the increase to cover close to $8 million of what it calls necessary upgrades and increased operating costs, according to the statement. All rate increases must be approved by the PUC, which regulates water rates.

Maine Water acquired the former Saco and Biddeford Water Company, which serviced Saco, Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough in December of 2012. The local water facility, located on South Street in Biddeford, was built in 1884, and has had limited modifications since a 1937 upgrade, according to an October 2013 study from Woodard & Curran and Tata & Howard, commissioned by Maine Water.

On a tour of the plant last year, Rick Knowlton, vice president of operations, said the former owners of the Biddeford facility employed “very aggressive cost containment strategies,” doing the minimal amount of work possible to meet changing regulations.

Earlier this year, the PUC approved a 2.7 percent rate increase needed to cover initial upgrades.

In an April interview, Maine Water Company President and CEO Judy Wallingford said the local plant lost money in 2013. The company as a whole was able to carry the local facility, but rates need to increase in order for it to be sustainable, she said.

“When the Biddeford and Saco water system became part of Maine Water in 2012, we made a commitment to invest in and upgrade the water system. We have focused on working efficiently to stretch our customers’ dollars as far as we can,” said Wallingford in the recent statement.

The PUC has up to nine months to make a decision on a proposed rate change once its filed, said PUC spokesman Harry Lanphear. The public will have a chance to give its input on the proposed change, he said.

“The staff and the commission do look at comments before making a decision,” said Lanphear.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or egotthelf@journaltribunecom.

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