- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Republican Gov. Paul LePage stuck to a familiar topic in his weekly radio address this week: the claim that environmentalism has led to high electric prices in Maine.

Though prices are rising, he doesn’t mention that Maine customers enjoy the lowest average electricity price of all New England - a fact that federal data shows didn’t changed from May 2015 to May 2016.

But New England faces the highest electricity costs in the continental U.S., and LePage is right that Maine environmental groups prefer in-state solar and wind projects and have long opposed Maine buying hydroelectric power from Canadian company Hydro-Quebec, including a proposed long-term contract and transmission project in 1987.

Democrats fired back with a radio address claiming Vermont’s Canadian hydro agreement hasn’t been a “money saver” for the state - even though Vermont has the second-lowest electric rates in New England.

A look at some of the claims by LePage and Democratic Rep. Deane Rykerson, of Kittery, and how they compare with the facts.

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RYKERSON: “Vermont has learned that Canadian hydro is not a money saver. They’re buying power from Quebec and they have consistently higher electric rates than Maine.”

THE FACTS: Though Vermont does have higher electric rates than Maine, the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s data shows it has consistently ranked just above Maine and below other New England states. Across all sectors, Vermont’s average electricity price for customers increased 9.19 percent from May 2010 to May 2016, compared with 19 percent in Rhode Island, 15.6 percent in Massachusetts, 11 percent in New Hampshire, 5.6 percent in Connecticut and 3.42 percent in Maine.

In 2010, Vermont signed a 26-year electricity contract with Hydro-Quebec that includes a confidential mechanism designed to adjust prices to the market to avoid price spikes. In a statement, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin said that such “stably-priced contracts for renewable energy” help keep Vermont’s rates “competitive and affordable” while neighboring states have “experienced double-digit rate increases.”

Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the deal is neither increasing nor “dramatically lowering” the Vermont utility’s rate, but agreed the contract helps stabilize rates. She said Vermont’s circumstances don’t necessarily equate to Maine’s.

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LEPAGE: “Quebec is now ready to be a huge exporter of electric power to New England. We could benefit from their low rates.”

THE FACTS: There are several large-scale projects - some controversial, some directly connected with Hydro-Quebec - awaiting approval to expand transmission lines throughout New England.

How low Hydro-Quebec’s rates would be for Maine depends on several factors. Hydro-Quebec is required by Canadian law to provide a pool of energy to Quebec customers at a fixed, low rate, and it sells the rest at wholesale prices according to tariffs set by Quebec regulators.

Those behind several proposed transmission projects, including the Northern Pass transmission line in New Hampshire, say customers won’t pay for project costs - a chief concern of opponents.

In June, New Hampshire’s utility entered into a 20-year power purchase agreement with Hydro-Quebec that claims it would net up to $100 million in customer energy savings. But the utility is pushing to keep the deal’s price data confidential, prompting objections from the state’s public advocate.

This week, Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation requiring the state to solicit long-term contracts for 1,200 megawatts of clean energy like hydroelectric power. The law says contracts must be “cost-effective.”

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Associated Press writer David Gram in Montpelier, Vermont, contributed to this story.

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