Maine’s largest electric utility has a new leader, Doug Herling. A Maine native, Herling started with Central Maine Power as an equipment operator in 1985. He rose through the ranks, most recently overseeing electric operations for parent-company Avangrid, a company that serves 2.2 million customers in New England. Herling sat down with Maine Public's Ed Morin to discuss consumer costs, the influence of renewable energy, and his vision for the company.
HERLING: My vision for Central Maine Power is really to continue to focus on customers. That's what we're here for. That's what our company is all about. I think we need to deliver safe and reliable electricity at an affordable price to our customers.
MORIN: We've seen the actual price of producing electricity go down over about the last decade. And at the same time, we've seen distribution costs go up. Do you expect that to continue? And if so why?
HERLING: Well, I think you know we're in the delivery of power business, and, you know, our goal is to deliver power at the most reasonable cost we can. As far as the energy rates, I think energy rates are going to vary, depending on our dependency on what fuel the electricity is coming from. In New England, we're about 42 percent natural gas. So when natural gas prices are high, energy prices are going to be high; when natural gas drops low, energy prices are going to be low. But our distribution rates should remain constant.
MORIN: Well talking about various sources of electricity. How do you plan to approach the growth in distributed resources in Maine - things like residential and grid scale solar storage options, micro-grids, things like that?
HERLING: Our objective is we need to provide power to our customers. So when some of these things come onto our system we need to have the ability to focus on what the impact of that is going to be. And we have our engineers focused on what we need to do to make sure we maintain a reliable grid for all customers.
MORIN: How do you take into account these new technologies and at the same time make sure at the same time it doesn't hurt shareholder profits?
HERLING: I really don't think the generation of power, whether it's from a customer or from a commercial energy distributor, is going to impact our bottom line. Rates are decoupled. So they're focused on what it costs for us to provide service, and energy is an external component to that. So if somebody wants to generate their own electricity and supplement that with solar or wind, then that's something that will impact them directly on their bill for energy. regarding stand-alone solar.
MORIN: Regarding stand-alone solar, some advocates cast CMP as the as the enemy. How would your plans affect people's desire to have personal solar projects?
HERLING: So that's a very interesting question and I really want the opportunity to be able to correct a perception that's out there. CMP is owned by Avangrid, who is a major owner of Iberdrola, the largest wind producer in the world. We are not against solar. We are not against wind. We are not against renewables. Most recently there was an issue out there regarding our net energy metering, and what we were interested in is the impact, the financial impact, on customers. But as far as us being negative about people putting solar panels on the roof, I think everyone should put solar panels on the roof if that's what they want to do. It doesn't impact our company and we're not against that at all.
MORIN: CMP has two bids and to build hundreds of miles of new transmission lines to supply renewable power to Massachusetts. What's in this for Maine?
HERLING: There's a lot of things in there for Maine. The people of Maine will gain a benefit - number one, by the influx of renewable energy into our system and the suppression of price - about $40 million of energy rates that they may see a reduction in. In addition to that, municipal. communities along the way are going to see an increase of about $18 million in property taxes. Those property taxes will be paid for by the people of Massachusetts. In addition to that, we've got about 1,700 jobs in this five- to six-year construction window and a lot of people may think, ‘Well, those jobs come and those jobs go.’ But our experience is when we have that influx of jobs, there's a lot of companies that have built that benefit. When that project is over they're sustained and able to move forward.