Opinion

Giving hardworking families a break on energy costs

Since January, high energy prices have put a real strain on hardworking families, older Mainers and small businesses across the state. Unfortunately, what began as a spike in electric rates, driven by the increase in the global price of natural gas, has only gotten worse with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Not to mention, a handful of corporations have used this conflict to pad their profit margins and needlessly raise fuel prices. It’s no wonder folks are frustrated – I am too.

Part of the challenge with this energy crisis is that there is so much out of the state’s control. But I’m committed to doing everything in my power to rein in prices so Maine people can afford to keep their lights on and heat their homes. It’s why I prioritized legislation this session that will give hardworking families a much-needed break while we work on long-term solutions to truly stabilize energy prices.

To help hardworking families and retirees respond to outrageous electric bills and gas prices, I worked with my colleagues to pass a supplemental budget that included direct relief checks of up to $850 to more than 800,000 eligible Mainers. These checks will help Mainers respond to the immediate challenges brought on by the increase in energy and inflation costs while we work to implement long-term solutions. To receive a check, individuals must qualify as Maine residents and file a 2021 income tax return by October 31, 2022. Eligible Mainers include single-filers earning up to $100,000, individuals filing as head-of-household earning up to $150,000, and married or joint-filers earning up to $200,000. More information can be found at www.maine.gov/governor/mills/relief-checks/faq

For retirees and Mainers who do not typically file income taxes, you must file a Maine individual Income Tax form and a Maine Schedule PTFC/STFC. You find these forms online at www.maine.gov/revenue/tax-return-forms. However, if you need help, I’d encourage you to check out www.cashmaine.org or call Maine Revenue Services at 207-626-8475. 

To help small businesses with high-energy burdens, like our locally-owned grocery and convenience stores, I was proud to sponsor LD 2010, Resolve, To Help Certain Businesses with Electricity Costs. This new law creates a tiered credit worth up to $3,000 that eligible small businesses can get off of their electric bill. Eligible small businesses must be considered “medium-general service” customers and have experienced significant increases in their electric bills under the standard offer. I’m truly grateful to Governor Mills and the Department of Economic and Community Development for partnering with me on this legislation. I’m hopeful this will help our local stores keep the lights on, the refrigerators running and their doors open. More information will be available in the coming month.

Finally, the Legislature partnered with our local Community Action Programs, like the Aroostook County Action Program (ACAP), to strengthen the Home Energy Assistance Program and eliminate the bureaucratic red tape that was making it hard for the folks at these agencies to do their jobs and get this assistance out the door. We passed a new law that will ensure Mainers can apply for this assistance online no later than next winter. If you have any questions about the program, please check out acap-me.org or contact them at 207-764-3721. 

These three measures are short-term solutions designed to help Mainers get by while we work to deliver lasting relief. One of the long-term strategies includes a new law that will bring greater accountability and consumer input to the electric rate-setting process. The new law creates a stakeholder group with a diverse membership, including working Mainers, to review price-setting decisions. By giving Mainers a seat at the table, I’m hopeful we can prevent some of these outrageous spikes in the future. 

The other key to achieving long-term relief is energy independence. Last year, the Legislature passed my bill creating the Northern Maine Renewable energy Development Program and directing the Public Utilities Commission to request proposals for the construction of a potential northern Maine transmission line. Right now, the PUC is reviewing bids. Should something viable come out of this process, it would incentivize renewable energy generation from northern Maine, like biomass, lower energy costs, create good-paying jobs and boost our economy. More importantly, the project must not harm ratepayers.

As always, I will keep you updated as we continue to make progress on this important work. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or concerns at 287-1500 or Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov.

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your 4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.