Utility surcharge helps low-income Vermonters
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | February 18,2013
Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo
Green Mountain Power workers upgrade the power lines along South Main Street in Rutland last week. The state’s largest utility has started adding a monthly fee that will be used to reduce electric bills for low-income Vermonters.
Customers of Green Mountain Power Corp. have started to see a surcharge on their monthly bills to help low-income Vermonters.
The new charge, which began last month, is to fund the Energy Assistance Program for low-income Vermonters, providing them with a 25 percent discount off the first 600 kilowatts of electricity used each month.
For residential GMP customers, the surcharge is $1.50 a month; for small commercial customers, $2.50; and for large commercial customers, $83.33.
“Up until now Vermont was the only state in New England without a rate specifically designed to assist low-income customers,” said GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure. “For years and years and years, all the other states in New England had a low-income rate.”
AARP Vermont petitioned the Public Service Board in 2009 to require the state’s utilities to establish a program of discounted electric rates to help low-income residents. Schnure said the 25 percent discount for low-income customers is equal to $25 off someone’s electric bill.
The discount is available to those who earn no more than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. For an individual, that’s a maximum gross income of $1,397 a month; for a two-person household, $1,892; and for a family of four, $2,882.
Schnure said those who qualify for the program may also be entitled to a one-time forgiveness of past-due bills. Applications must be received by March 15.
Those who may qualify for the program should call (800) 775-0516 for an application or visit www.energyhelp.vt.gov.
Although a statewide program, for now the surcharge applies only to GMP, the dominant electric utility in the state with 250,000 customers.
The Public Service Board is expected to authorize Vermont Gas Systems to participate in the program later this year, with the state’s remaining municipal utilities and cooperatives to follow on a yet-to-be-determined schedule.
The Energy Assistance Program is administered by the state Agency of Human Services Benefits Services Center.
Since the program was launched in mid-December, the Agency of Human Services is receiving up to 200 applications a day, according to Richard Moffi, the agency’s fuel assistance program chief.
As of Feb. 1, of the 5,000 applications received, 2,800 had been approved and 1,500 denied; 700 applications were still being processed.
“There are lots of households out there that are income eligible,” said Moffi, who also oversees the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Moffi said a major challenge is getting the word out that the program exists.
He said the application process is simple. Someone who already receives state assistance needs only to check the appropriate box and sign the application. He said anyone else simply fills in their monthly income.