Maine utility regulators on Thursday approved a one-time, $90 electricity bill credit for about 90,000 low-income customers of Central Maine Power and Versant Power to help offset higher rates that began in January.

The higher rates, which are showing up as anywhere from 30 percent or more per monthly bill, came as prices for the natural gas that powers New England’s energy grid rose sharply.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission responded to a request from Gov. Janet Mills’ energy office and the office of Public Advocate William Harwood to approve an $8 million program that will subsidize rates for CMP and Versant residential customers who have household incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

The credit will be applied automatically to the accounts of eligible customers of both utilities. CMP said it is reaching out to customers by email, mail and social media to try to help them with the higher rate, which was set by the PUC.

“We encourage all customers who are facing challenges in paying their bills to give us a call to discuss an affordable plan and any assistance available,” CEO Joseph Purington said in a statement.

Versant said it also will try to work with customers to manage high bills. The utilities and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services will identify the qualifying households.

The cost of the program will be paid by the Maine State Housing Authority, using the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Qualified recipients can expect a one-time credit automatically applied to their electric bill by about March 30, 2022.

The commission also is looking at revising its low-income assistance program to provide longer-term relief.

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...