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I-Team: Winter disconnect protections for utility customers begin Thursday

Starting on Thursday, utilities aren't allowed to disconnect the gas or electricity to homes without permission from state regulators.

STATEWIDE (WGME) -- Starting on Thursday, utilities aren't allowed to disconnect the gas or electricity to homes without permission from state regulators.

It's known as the "winter period" and runs until April 15.

The rules have been different for some Central Maine Power customers while the company is under investigation.

Customers with bills 25 percent higher than the same month last year cannot be cut-off as long as they dispute the charges and pay a portion. But some tell the CBS 13 I-Team that hasn't stopped CMP from threatening to disconnect.

"December, January and February were almost triple what they were the year before," said customer Matt Clifford.

Clifford said the CMP bills for his single family home in Jefferson skyrocketed inexplicably.

"Last year we just burned oil," he said.

Clifford and his girlfriend, Alicia Brann, tell CBS 13 they called CMP and the Maine Public Utilities Commission to dispute the charges and asked to have that portion of the bill set aside so they wouldn't get disconnected.

Clifford said the company never followed up with them, and months went by without any bill.

In October, the couple said they got a disconnect notice for the disputed amount.

A spokesman for CMP said, "If a customer with a concern is referred to us by the PUC, we make every effort to contact that customer based on the information provided to us. We want to work with customers to avoid disconnection."

Hours after the I-Team contacted CMP about Clifford's case, we were told it had been resolved.

"You asked if you could call them on my behalf and they called, I think it was an hour later," Clifford said.

According to Clifford, the representative on the other end of the line told him some of the charges didn't add up and gave them a $300 credit., which just turned up on the most recent bill.

"Thank you, though, because they did call and they did help, so I do appreciate it," Clifford told the I-Team.

This disconnection process will stay in effect for CMP customers until the investigation ends.

All other consumers can't be shut off if they reach out to their utility and work out a way to make reasonable monthly payments. During the winter period, companies need permission from the PUC's Consumer Assistance Division before disconnecting anyone.

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