More than 50 members of the Maine Legislature signed a letter on Friday demanding state utilities regulators again ban the disconnection of homes and businesses during the pandemic.
Members of the Legislature requested that the broad utility moratorium put in place by the Maine Public Utilities Commission in March, but halted on Nov. 1, be reinstated immediately for a minimum of 120 days.
The letter cited the “dramatically” rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state over the past two months and the resulting unemployment rate and small business closures.
“The dire economic and public health circumstances we face today are significantly worse than the situation we faced in [March 2020],” Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, wrote in the letter.
The letter comes a month after a group of Central Maine Power customers issued a similar demand, and was signed by 55 other senators and representatives in the Maine Legislature, including House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, and Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston.
The demand was primarily supported by members of the House and Senate Democratic caucuses, though some Independents and Republicans signed on, including Rep. Dwayne Prescott, R-Waterboro and Sen. Marianne Moore, R-Calais.
On March 16 — shortly after Gov. Janet Mills issued a civil state of emergency — the commission placed an emergency halt on disconnection for all electric transmission and distribution, natural gas and water utilities as well as telephone providers of last resort used by businesses and residents.
“No one will lose utility service or be threatened with disconnection during this civil emergency,” Bartlett said at the time.
However, in September, the commission announced that the moratorium would be lifted on Nov. 1. Bartlett cited the decrease in school and business closings and an end to Mills’ stay-at-home order since the beginning of the pandemic.
Bartlett also said indefinitely upholding the moratorium could stop some utility customers from using federal CARES Act funding for their bills and as well as drive up costs for all customers in the long-term. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
From Nov. 15 to April 15, electric utilities across Maine are blocked from deactivating utilities for home customers without the commission’s approval. Though it does not prevent utilities from sending disconnection notices or trying to collect due balances under threat of disconnection.