Low-income utility consumers in Maine will be getting a break on their bills under a new program aimed at offsetting the financial impact of rising energy costs.
The state Public Utilities Commission has approved a proposal from Gov. Janet Mills to provide a one-time, $90 credit for more than 90,000 low-income customers of Central Maine Power and Versant Power. Under the plan, the credits will be applied to utility bills over the next three months.
“We recognize the importance of this assistance during a time when energy costs are increasing globally,” said Philip L. Bartlett II, the commission’s chairman.
Mills said the $8 million program will deliver “meaningful support” to low-income Mainers who are disproportionately impacted by higher-than-normal energy prices this winter.
“While this is a welcome step forward, my administration will continue to evaluate ways that we can provide relief to more people across the state as they grapple with these increased costs driven by Maine’s over reliance on fossil fuels, especially natural gas,” Mills said in a statement.
To be eligible for the credit, a household’s income must be at or below 150% of federal poverty guidelines, according to the Mills administration.
Money for the temporary energy credit hinges on federal funds being delivered to Maine for the Heating Assistance Program, or HEAP, which is administered by MaineHousing. The federal funding will allow the state to offer the credit without increasing costs for other ratepayers.
Energy bills reflect a combination of supply prices, which are based largely on market conditions, and delivery prices, which are set by state and federal regulators.
Utilities point out that winter rates are pass-through charges that only cover the cost of power, which they don’t control and are not allowed to profit from under state law.
But the price for natural gas and home heating oil has soared amid supply chain issues and rising inflation, which is putting a squeeze on energy consumers during the cold winter months.
Maine already has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, and advocates say higher prices have a major impact on low-income households that have trouble keeping up with bills.
Bill Harwood, the state’s public advocate, said the utility credits will help “address rising energy costs on Maine people, without adding costs to ratepayers.”
“I applaud the PUC for taking swift action in recognition of the critical importance of delivering financial support to Maine’s most vulnerable citizens,” Harwood said.
This article was originally posted on Maine utility regulators approve Mills’ rebate plan