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Relief payments coming to Maine small businesses struggling with high electric bills

U.S. flags hang outside a downtown storefront in Lewiston.
David Goldman
U.S. flags hang outside a downtown storefront in Lewiston.

Maine businesses struggling with high electricity costs may see some relief through a new law that will eventually provide direct payments to small organizations.

The bill, which Gov. Janet Mills signed into law Monday, will provide relief payments to eligible small businesses through a tiered credit system based on their electricity usage. Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, originally introduced the bill earlier this spring.

Maine's Department of Economic and Development is still working out the details about how it will administer the new relief program.

Commissioner Heather Johnson says electricity costs were high on the list of concerns that Maine businesses brought to the department during recent listening sessions.

"We heard energy costs over and over again," she said. "It lined up well as this was coming up in the legislature that we could all work together on a solution."

Deb Neuman, president and CEO of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, said she too has heard from small businesses all winter about skyrocketing energy costs, including from one local retailer whose electricity bill went up $2,000 each month in January and February compared to the same time period last year.

Local businesses are questioning whether they can stay afloat with rising energy bills on top of everything else, Neuman said.

The new law calls for a tiered credit system, and relief payments will vary depending on how much electricity a business has used and how much their energy bills have risen, Johnson said.

The credits could be worth up to $3,000, but Johnson said the department hasn't determined exactly how much businesses might receive under each tier.

The new law, Neuman said, will provide short-term relief while local businesses explore more permanent ways to reduce their energy costs.

"Many of these businesses are certainly looking at long-term solutions," she said. "How can I work with, perhaps, Efficiency Maine to look at ways to reduce our energy use? How can I bring in more efficient lighting or cost saving equipment to help reduce our energy expenses going forward?"

Utility companies are supposed to certify which businesses are eligible by this fall.

The Department of Economic and Community Development will then administer payments as quickly as possible, Johnson said.

Businesses can expect more guidelines about the new program from the department in the coming months.