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Electric utilities will be forbidden to cut off power to customers during severe heat, extreme weather

FILE— Central Maine Power utility lines are seen, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, in Pownal, Maine. Rolling blackouts may hit New England if there's an extended cold snap this winter. The CEO of power grid operator ISO New England said the situation is "precarious" because natural gas is in shorter-than-normal supply and also subject to supply chain disruptions.
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
FILE— Central Maine Power utility lines are seen, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, in Pownal, Maine. Rolling blackouts may hit New England if there's an extended cold snap this winter. The CEO of power grid operator ISO New England said the situation is "precarious" because natural gas is in shorter-than-normal supply and also subject to supply chain disruptions.

Maine's utilities will no longer be allowed to cut off power to customers during severe heat and other extreme weather events, under a new measure signed by Governor Janet Mills.

Electric utilities are already prohibited from disconnecting a meter due to unpaid bills between mid-November and mid-April. But a new law requires the Maine Public Utilities Commission to create rules prohibiting electric or gas disconnections during any "extreme weather or temperature conditions, including extreme heat or humidity," during other times of the year.

Maine Public Advocate Bill Harwood said he sees the measure as an important step, as climate change leads to hotter summers, during which air conditioning may become a necessity.

"If it drags on, you get a heat wave for three or four days, air conditioning can really be an important public health issue, for certain, particularly elderly ratepayers," Harwood said.

"And I don't think that will have a huge impact on CMP and Versant's bottom line. But it could have a very significant impact on those ratepayers who are struggling to stay cool," he added.

In testimony to legislators, Maine's largest electric utilities indicated support for the new weather disconnection rules.

"Versant Power recognizes that Maine is and will continue to experience more extreme weather, including excess heat and humidity. Because of this, Versant Power is supportive of including a prohibition on disconnections during certain extreme weather conditions," Versant Power Lobbyist James Cote wrote. Central Maine Power added that it already voluntarily stops disconnections during periods of high heat.

Under the new law, the PUC will also set a threshold for how much a customer must owe before they face disconnection. That amount must be greater than $50, and Harwood indicated he'd like to see the amount set at $100 or $150.

Electric utilities will also be forbidden from charging reconnection fees and late fees to low-income customers.

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