A past due electric bill hangs on the front door of 6 Main St. in Howland in April 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Maine’s Public Advocate petitioned the state’s electricity regulator on Friday for financial relief for low-income Mainers ahead of rate hikes by both major electricity suppliers in January.

Public Advocate William Harwood asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission for a $75 bill credit in January for the 70,000 low-income customers currently enrolled in the commission’s Low-Income Assistance Program. This will offset the first three months of the approximately $25 per month rate increases by both Central Maine Power and Versant Power.

The filing comes in the wake of recently announced price increases of the standard offer service, which is the supply part of electricity bills. The increases are approximately 49 percent for CMP and 38 percent for Versant.

That means a $29 total monthly bill increase for an average residential CMP customer and $24 for an average residential Versant customer. The increases will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

Customers have the option to choose their own electricity supplier or use the supplier chosen through the commission’s competitive bidding process for the standard offer price.

“We need to help get 70,000 low-income ratepayers through the tough winter ahead when they will be burdened with these rate increases,” Harwood said.

He said the rate hikes come at the same time food, gas and housing prices are being driven up steeply by inflation. The typical U.S. household must now spend $493 more per month to buy the same amount of goods or services as last year, he said.

The emergency request for the $75 one-time bill credit will cost approximately $1.9 million. Harwood said the additional cost to the utilities could be recovered in future transmission and distribution when supply prices are not so exorbitant,

He said he hopes the commission will make a decision in time to provide the bill credits in January.

Update: The headline has been updated for clarity.