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Vermont Utilities Get Federal COVID-19 Relief To Cover Payroll

The control room at Green Mountain Power. The Public Utility Commission says GMP can raise rates by 5.43 percent next September.
Toby Talbot
The control room at Green Mountain Power, which received a $10 million loan under the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Vermont's major utilities have received millions of dollars from the federal government under a program designed to keep paychecks flowing at small businesses.

The $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money last week, but not before Vermont's five utilities got help.

Green Mountain Power, the state's largest utility, will get $10 million, the maximum allowed under the program. Vermont Gas Systems will get $2.5 million. Both companies are Canadian-owned and plan to ask that the loans be forgiven.

Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Kristin Kelly said the the utility's costs will increase due to the COVID-19 crisis.

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“This is a way to help reduce costs for all customers,” she said. “And I think that is why all of the utilities in Vermont that qualify also applied for this money.”

"Any money they can get to offset the impact [of COVID-19], we're supportive of." — James Porter, Department of Public Service

In a document filed with regulators, Green Mountain Power said the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected many of its ratepayers, including commercial and industrial customers forced to close job sites and lay off employees.

“As a result, Vermonters have seen unprecedented spikes in unemployment related to this emergency,” Green Mountain Power said. “It is not yet clear whether these disruptions will be short-term; even if so, the depth of the impacts to customers may cause GMP [Green Mountain Power] to experience cash flow impacts.”

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Green Mountain Power said the federal money will be used "solely for the purpose of funding payroll." 

Other utilities that got the federal assistances include the Washington Electric Cooperative, the Vermont Electric Cooperative and the Vermont Electric Company, which operates the state’s bulk transmission grid.

Vermont's utilities are regulated monopolies and are allowed to make a pre-set profit. State regulators have ordered them not to disconnect customers during the crisis.

The Department of Public Service, which represents utility ratepayers, supports the utilities’ efforts to get the federal help. “They’re providing essential services, they’re under a moratorium for disconnects and they have a specialized workforce,” said James Porter, the department’s director of public advocacy. “Any money they can get to offset the impact [of COVID-19], we’re supportive of.”

Correction 4/21/2020 10 a.m. The Paycheck Protection Program had $349 billion before it ran out of money, not $3.49 billion.

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