Adams urges power consumers to know their rights

Adams urges power consumers to know their rights

Maine’s winter heating season has officially started, along with rights and protections for consumers who may have trouble keeping up with the bills, a former legislator seeking re-election in Portland announced.

“Consumers better know their rights ” said former state Rep. Herb Adams, the longest serving member of the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee.

Central Maine Power set a record number of electric shutoffs for consumers who could not keep up with bills in 2011-12, noted Adams.

“But winter rules are different, and provide consumers with protections longer, and help sooner. The Maine Public Utilities Commission in its annual report said CMP disconnected service to a record 29,554 homes in 2011, a sharp 60 percent increase over 2010. Figures for 2013 show a spike but are still incomplete.

“CMP privatized their bill collection efforts, and beefed-up collection methods meant more shutoffs, even during summer heat waves, endangering elderly and infants,” said Adams. “Winter weather gives consumers a chance to regroup under new rule and new protections. Under Maine law, gas and electric service cannot be shut off during the peak winter heating season from Oct. 15 to April 15. Additionally, PUC rules bar utilities from shutting off any customer between Nov. 15 and April 15 without explicit permission from the PUC Consumer Protection Division.”

Rules require a full information packet explaining options be mailed or delivered to homes which have lost heat or light service since last April 15 before a winter disconnection may take place, said Adams.

Letters, phone calls and in-person attempts at contact are required before a winter disconnection can take place, said Adams.

Consumers can contact the PUC’s Consumer Assistance Division toll-free at 1-800-452-4699 to work out a payment schedule and get free help and options to meet the bills.Help includes:

• A year-round Low Income Assistance Program (LIAP) that provides utility bill discounts or credits to challenged families.

• An “Energy Crisis Intervention Program” for eligible families get get disconnection notices but still cannot negotiate or meet a payment plan. Emergency assistance from Maine Department of Human Services when a disconnection is imminent.

• Eligible customers on oxygen pumps and ventilators 8 hours a day may qualify for a utility credit to cover the cost of electricity for life-saving equipment.

“Customers should contact their utility first — in Portland, usually CMP or Unitil gas — and if not satisfied, call the PUC Consumer Assistance Division toll-free,” said Adams.

As a state legislator, Adams noted that he sponsored many of the laws that created these consumer protections.

“A little help can go a long way toward keeping families warm and stable during the darkest months,” said Adams. “These winter rules are good for all of Maine and all Mainers.”Adams served Portland as a legislator until term limited in 2010.

Adams is a candidate for re-election to his former seat on Tuesday, Nov. 4. He is running in new Portland House District 40, Oakdale, Parkside and Bayside, created in the last state-wide redistricting.

Press release Printed in Portland Daily Sun

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