In this July 16, 2019, file photo, a Central Maine Power smart meter is seen in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Maine’s public advocate is criticizing utility regulators for not imposing a moratorium on disconnection notices as the pandemic worsens here.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday rejected a complaint from 10 Central Maine Power customers that sought a new moratorium on disconnection notices for those with unpaid bills.

That complaint, filed in December, called such notices “unreasonable” until the state can bring the surge in coronavirus transmission under control.

Maine regulators placed a moratorium on utility disconnect notices back in March, but decided to roll that back last September, allowing disconnection notices to resume Nov. 1. But since then, Maine has gone from seeing fewer than 30 new cases to hundreds a day. A new record high — 782 — was set last Friday, and hospitalizations have climbed to record heights as well in recent days.

With that surge in Maine and nationally has come renewed concern about a further economic slowdown and additional job losses.

That alone should have prompted the commission to place a moratorium on utility disconnection notices, according to Public Advocate Barry Hobbins, who called the decision “disappointing.”

“Maine business[es] continue to struggle and, as a result, many workers are either unemployed or have had their hours and compensation substantially reduced,” Hobbins said. “Congress has just extended the moratorium on evictions and a moratorium on the issuance of disconnection notices should be implemented as well.”

Under Maine rules, utilities cannot disconnect customers from Nov. 15 to April 15 without approval from the commission. But they can send disconnection notices in an attempt to collect past due balances.

A commission spokesperson, Harry Lanphear, told the BDN in December that the body hasn’t received a request from CMP to disconnect a customer in the past two years.