December 9, 2022

Mills unveils plan for low-income utility relief

Gov. Janet Mills has filed a $8 million proposal to provide low-income residents financial support to offset the impact of higher energy bills.

The plan calls for giving about 90,000 low-income Maine households a one-time $90 credit that can be applied to their electric and gas charges to help reduce their monthly bills.

Mills, who filed the proposal, said if approved by state regulators the credit would be applied to households served by Central Maine Power and Versant Power and would offset at least three months of utility bills, based on the average customer. She said rising energy bills are putting the squeeze on low-income residents and the elderly.

“Maine’s overreliance on fossil fuels, especially natural gas, is pushing up electric rates for Maine people, with a disproportionate impact on those who are low-income,” she said in a statement. “This program can deliver meaningful relief to those who need it most as we examine other ways we can tackle this growing burden.”

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.

Bill Harwood, the state’s public advocate, said the program will provide “meaningful and immediate rate relief, without adding significant administrative costs to the utility or ratepayers.”

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.

Overall, people who use natural gas to heat their homes are projected to pay an average of $746 this season, up nearly a third from last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. Those dependent on oil for heating will fork over almost $1,800 – a more than 40% hike over 2020, the agency said.

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.

Maine already has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, and increased prices will have a particular impact on low-income households that have trouble keeping up with bills.

“When global markets cause fossil fuel prices to rise our electric rates can increase and Maine people pay the bill,” said Dan Burgess, director of the governor’s Energy Office. “This initiative helps provide immediate relief for Maine people, as the work to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels moves ahead.”

This article was originally posted on Mills unveils plan for low-income utility relief

Sydney Boles