Thursday February 28, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Green Mountain Power customers may start to notice a new fee being listed on their electric bills.

The line item is listed as "electric assistance program fee," and whether the monthly bill is for a residential, commercial, or industrial customer the flat fee is $1.50, $2.50, or $83.33 respectively.

According to Dorothy Schnure, spokeswoman for GMP, the utility's customers were notified of the fee through a flier attached to their November bill. The fee offsets the costs GMP incurs from the low-income discount rate it offers to customers at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. While the numbers fluctuate, that would be defined as a family of four with an annual income of $35,575, according to GMP.

For many years Vermont was one of the few New England states in which utilities did not offer a discounted rate to low-income customers, according to Schnure, who added that the America Association of Retired Persons had been advocating for the Public Service Board, which oversees electric utilities, to direct companies like GMP to offer the rate.

The law did not allow the PSB to do that, however, and so it fell to the legislature to change statutes so it could. AARP petitioned the Public Service Board, in 2009, to direct GMP and Central Vermont Public Service to offer the rate, and after the two companies merged last year the program was rolled out in January.

Schnure said 4,352 customers are enrolled in the low-income rate program. Customers apply though the Agency of Human Resources, which screens for eligibility. Those who qualify can get up to a 25 percent discount on the first 600 kilowatt hours they use each month, which is about $25 using current rates.

The fee rates do not expire and are not set to change but they could be altered through the PSB if they do not appear to work, said Schnure. If GMP takes in more money than it pays out, the overage goes into a trust-type fund and has to be used for the discounted rate. The company cannot use it on itself, she said.

Those who wish to apply for the low-income rate can do so by contacting the Vermont Agency of Human Services Benefits Service Center at 1-800-775-0516.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr