Lewis v. Isle Au Haut Electric Power Co., 111721 MEPUBUTL, 2021-00335

Docket Nº2021-00335
Case DateNovember 17, 2021
ISLE AU HAUT ELECTRIC POWER COMPANY 10-Person Complaint Concerning Solar Projects Docket
No. 2021-00335
State of Maine Public Utilities Commission
November 17, 2021
          BARTLETT, Chair; DAVIS and SCULLY, Commissioners          ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT           HARRY LANPHEAR ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTOR          I. SUMMARY          On October 12, 2021, the Commission received a complaint made by Paul R. Lewis and 10 other persons against Isle Au Haut Electric Power Company (the Cooperative) (the Complaint). The Cooperative is a consumer-owned electric cooperative with approximately 135 metered customers on the island of Isle Au Haut. Formed in 1983, its power needs have been served since that time by a seven-mile underwater cable from the mainland. The Cooperative's board began efforts in 2015 to determine whether to replace the cable with a new cable, to go off the grid and use solar power or to develop a hybrid, possibly including use of a d¡esel generator. The Complaint, filed under 35-A M.R.S. § 1302, concerned the actions in recent years of the Cooperative's board to address these questions.          The Commission, for reasons discussed herein, dismisses the complaint.          II. BACKGROUND AND PROCESS          On July 2, 2020, in Docket No. 2020-00198, the Cooperative filed a request for a rate increase in two parts: a $9 increase in the monthly customer charge (from the current $16/month to $25/month) and a one-time assessment of up to $6,800 proposed to be paid in a lump sum or in monthly installments of $39 at the election of the customer. The increase in the monthly charge was to cover operational costs including costs associated with the hiring of a new part time general manager. The other requested increase was to meet the estimated $1.9 million cost of a solar generation project the Cooperative was developing to address the Cooperative's power needs given the age of the cable.          On August 6, 2020, the proceeding was bifurcated into two phases. Phase I concerned the $9/month increase in the customer charge and Phase II concerned the solar generation project. On September 29, 2020, the Commission temporarily approved a Partial Stipulation between the Cooperative and the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) to approve the Phase I $9 increase in the monthly charge, pending the outcome of Phase II.          In the following months, the Cooperative reported several times to the Commission on the status of Phase II. On October 4, 2021, Paul Lewis, the lead complainant here, filed a Petition to Intervene in the rate case docket. On October 6, 2021, the Cooperative filed a request to withdraw Phase II and close the docket, saying that the solutions it is now considering differ significantly from those it proposed at the outset of this docket and that it wished to withdraw that request. No party responded to a request for comments on this request. The unopposed request by the Cooperative to close this docket and to make the $9 monthly charge permanent was approved by the Commission on November 9, 2021. No decision regarding the intervention of Mr. Lewis in the rate case docket was made.          Following receipt of the Complaint, on October 12, 2021, as required under 35-A M.R.S. § 1302, the Commission issued a Notice of Complaint ordering the Cooperative to file its response to the Complaint within 10 days. On October 22, 2021, the Cooperative timely filed its response. This consisted of a Response to 10-Person Complaint and Motion to Dismiss (Response), and a letter from the Board's President providing further information and response.          III. THE COMPLAINT          The Complaint describes efforts carried out by the Cooperative's board over the past five or six years to address electricity supply. Since 1983, the utility has received power via an underwater cable from the mainland. The board presented to the Cooperative's members during its August 2015 annual meeting a proposal to replace this cable at a cost of approximately $1.3 million. The members rejected the proposal "unanimously and requested that the...

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