Correction, April 5: An earlier version of this article stated that the College could face $170,000 in new costs with the rate change. This was an old estimate, and has since been updated to $115,000. The article also mistakenly stated that the College is an intervenor in the rate case. This has been corrected to show that the Maine Independent Colleges Association, which Bowdoin is a member of, is legally intervening. Finally, the Maine Public Utilities Commission was incorrectly referred to as the Maine Public Utility Commission, which has since been corrected. 

About 20 Bowdoin students traveled to public hearings both Wednesday and Thursday nights to protest the new rate hikes that have been proposed by Central Maine Power (CMP). Bowdoin Climate Action organized the student trips to the hearings. 

Instead of charging Bowdoin based on its power usage, it would serve a fixed rate with various stand-by charges. This has raised controversy as Bowdoin introduces a new solar energy plan that would dramatically reduce reliance on the company’s services. 

At the Wednesday hearing in Hallowell, Maine, three students gave testimony against the rate hikes CMP has proposed to institute. Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Catherine Longley was also in attendance and spoke out against the fixed rate at the hearing. 

Opposed parties requested the hearing, which was conducted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the body ruling on the proposed rate hikes. The Maine Independent Colleges Association--of which Bowdoin is one of nine member institutions--is an intervenor in the case, along with institutions such as the Ski Maine Association and the Industrial Energy Consumers Group.

The hearings were intended to give members of the public who are not directly involved in the case an opportunity to speak out about the proposed rate hikes.

CMP first revealed their new rate design—the fixed rate instead of the rate at which one uses power—at the end of last year. 

The company also wants to introduce a new standby rate that would apply to any entity with on-site power generation. The standby rate would charge customers a fee based off of their single highest hourly usage over a twelve month period. This rate is meant to help compensate for customers who produce much of their own power through alternative energy sources, but are still connected to the grid and thus are being supplied power by CMP.

 In an op-ed published in the Orient last week, employee Ken Farber ’75 argued that CMP’s proposal reflects fixed costs for existing power infrastructure. 

“Unless all customers pay their fair share of the utility’s true cost of providing delivery service, other customers pay higher rates on their behalf. That cost shift disproportionately affects low income customers,” wrote Farber.

Students and administrators at the College have been speaking out against the proposed plan because the new rates would significantly affect the economic viability of the planned 1,300-kilowatt PV solar system that would supply eight percent of the College’s power consumption. The College has contracted SolarCity to install 4,500 solar panels at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station and on the roofs of Farley Field House and Watson Arena. 

Construction is slated to begin in the coming months and will be carried out regardless of whether the rate hikes are approved or not. However, the standby rate alone is expected to cost the College an extra $170,000 a year and could jeopardize the College’s plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020.

“We want to show the [commissioners] that there is a substantial opposition force  to particularly the stand-by fee, which is what is engaging Bowdoin students,” said Hugh Ratcliffe ’15, one of the organizers of the student presence at the hearing. He elaborated by saying that the rate hikes are both economically bad for the College and would decentivize sustainable energy expansion for any customers of CMP.

However, it was not just Bowdoin students who attended the hearing to speak out against the proposed changes. Though representatives from CMP attended the hearing, of the 20 other people who spoke on Wednesday night, all were opposed to the rate hikes. Speakers included the Electricity Management Director for Sunday River ski resort, the California-based Executive Director of the Alliance for Solar Choice and the president of AARP in Maine.

Small business owners and citizens who have installed solar panels for their homes also spoke out against the rate hikes. Many people cited economic reasons for their opposition, but the issue of global climate change and energy sustainability was also a main talking point.

“I think from my perspective it’s interesting because I view this issue basically just localized to Bowdoin, said Kenny Shapiro ’17, a member of Bowdoin Climate Action in attendance Wednesday night. 

“But it really does affect a wide breadth of people at all different socioeconomic levels and so it is very interesting and it only reinforces why I don’t want this to happen,” added Shapiro.

Shapiro was not the only Bowdoin student who was struck by how widespread the opposition was to the proposed rate hikes. Many students reported that they were impressed by both how many people attended the hearing and how diverse their reasons for doing so were.

“I think it’s great that we’re getting  to see many different perspectives and there really is a very wide range of experiences which is making it very clear how big of an impact on so many different people’s lives this would have if it passed,” said Jamie Ptacek ’17.

The Public Utility Commission has said that it will take the public’s testimonies into account; they will be making a decision some time in June. Michael Butler ’17 was optimistic that the hearings will help convince the commissioners to deny the proposed rate hikes.

“I think it gave me a lot more hope that [the plan] will not be passed because there was such a diverse range of incentives for other people to show up to the hearings,” said Butler.

Bowdoin Climate Action is also planning a 15-minute campus-wide Lights Out Campaign tonight at 7:30 p.m. The campaign is meant to further demonstrate student opposition to CMP’s proposed rate hikes.