Every day, I hear from constituents about the pressure high energy costs put on their household budgets. Here in Maine, we’re no strangers to harsh winters, freezing temperatures and as a result, higher energy budgets, but this year feels different. We’ve seen an unreasonable increase in our electric rates as well as a rising cost of natural gas, propane and oil. Suffice it to say that it’s getting more difficult for Mainers and people across the country to make ends meet. There are so many reasons for these skyrocketing prices.

There are several short-term and long-term reasons that the global energy market is not stable right now. We’re all still feeling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our global supply chain, which makes prices increase. Simultaneously, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a significant impact on the global energy market.

While the United States is less reliant on Russian gas and oil than our European allies, the war will not lower prices. Put simply, the price per barrel is going up because we’re not buying oil from Russia, and oil companies are passing that cost on to consumers like you and me. This is happening all while the climate crisis continues to lead to more severe and extreme weather patterns.

Essentially, the energy market is not expected to stabilize soon. And while most of the snow is behind us and the ground is beginning to thaw out, we need to make sure that Mainers are taken care of going forward. Energy prices are complicated and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s why my colleagues and I have put together a slate of bills to tackle the problem from all angles. We’ve proposed legislation to remove unnecessary bureaucracy for existing energy programs, provide direct relief to Maine electricity consumers, and bring stakeholders together to develop long-term strategies to control prices in the future.

We already have several heating assistance programs to ensure Mainers can afford to stay warm and pay their bills. Furthermore, Maine received an additional $55 million for heating assistance from the federal government. However, we’ve found that our policies are dated, and bureaucratic red tape has prevented too many Mainers from getting the relief they need and are eligible for.

That’s why I introduced LD 1966, “An Act To Facilitate Access to Heating Assistance.” My bill directs the Maine Housing Authority to require that local program operators and administrators process applications for heating assistance online and make this assistance available as fast as possible. Working families and older Mainers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to access heating assistance. Access to heating assistance is the difference between frozen pipes and keeping your family warm.

This winter, the Office of the Public Advocate, along with the Mills Administration, also shared information about programs to help low-income Mainers. However, middle-class working families and small businesses need our help, too. A bill I’m co-sponsoring, LD 2010, “An Act to Help Maine Residents with High Electricity Costs,” would provide a $1,000 tax rebate for residential ratepayers and a $2,500 tax rebate for businesses for eligible electricity ratepayers.

Reducing energy costs and maintaining reasonable prices requires long-term changes to our energy system. That’s why I’m co-sponsoring LD 1913, “An Act To Create the Electric Ratepayer Advisory Council.” This bill directs the Office of the Public Advocate to bring stakeholders together to review our utility rates and create a long-term strategic plan to guarantee Mainers aren’t bombarded with shocking prices because of a volatile global market.

With the global energy market complex and unpredictable, efforts to rein in prices will take time. This emphasizes why lawmakers shouldn’t hesitate to make sure utility assistance programs work for Maine people. We have a responsibility to help folks keep the house warm and the lights on.

If you or someone you know needs assistance here in Waldo County, do not hesitate to reach out. Additionally, if you have questions or want to connect about legislation or a state agency, please feel free to contact me. My email is Chip.Curry@legislature.maine.gov, and my office phone number is 287-1515. You can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/SenatorCurry. You can also sign up to receive my regular e-newsletter at mainesenate.org.

Democratic State Sen. Chip Curry represents Waldo County in Augusta.

filed under: