CMP will give $50 million to help low-income customers in Massachusetts

Press Herald - Central Maine Power has agreed to give $50 million to energy-assistance programs that will benefit low-income electric customers – in Massachusetts.

CMP will provide $50 million over 40 years to several programs and initiatives in Massachusetts, as a condition of winning the bid to build a high-voltage transmission line from Quebec through Maine that will carry hydroelectricity to the Commonwealth.

The disclosure comes as CMP is under multiple investigations and lawsuits over allegations it overcharged Maine ratepayers.

None of the money for the program will come from ratepayers in Maine or Massachusetts, according to Avangrid, CMP’s parent company. It will be taken out of profits.

The agreement to aid low-income Massachusetts ratepayers is contained in documents newly filed with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities and reviewed Tuesday by the Portland Press Herald. They include a Memorandum of Understanding signed last month by CMP.

But Maine’s consumer watchdog says the deal, which he calls “insulting,” raises questions about why Maine isn’t being offered a similar level of assistance as is being directed toward Massachusetts.

High electric rates and their impacts are an ongoing source of discussion and frustration in Maine. Gov. Paul LePage has made them an issue throughout the past seven years of his administration. LePage has fought most renewable energy proposals that feature rates that he concludes are above market prices. He is, however, a strong supporter of the CMP power line project.

LePage didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday about CMP’s agreement to help Massachusetts customers.

Scrutiny of CMP’s deal with Massachusetts also comes as the Augusta-based utility finds itself under fire for multiple events related to electric rates. The cost of recovery from a severe storm in October is being reviewed at the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The PUC also is conducting a probe into what caused bills to spike for thousands of customers last winter; hundreds of ratepayers are seeking a class-action lawsuit over the issue; and the PUC has begun a separate inquiry into whether CMP is overcharging customers.

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