PORTLAND, Maine — After a year and a half of harsh complaints from Maine ratepayers, Central Maine Power is likely to hear a lot more, as public hearings begin on the company’s request for a 10.65% rate increase.

It would be CMP’s first rate hike in five years, the company’s Spokesperson pointed out Tuesday.

“We are looking to hire more people, both in the electric operations area, linemen, looking to hire more in customer service area, looking to do dramatic improvements in reliability and line resilience,” says CMP’s Catherine Hartnett.

Maine Public Utilities Commission chairman Phil Bartlett says the comments from ratepayers—which are expected to largely oppose CMP and the rate hike-will play a role in the PUC’s decision on the rate increase.

“We have to get to the bottom of these billing issues, have to get to the bottom of the way CMP has treated its customers. I think there is no question we’ve been inundated with complaints about CMP customer service, and these public witness hearings are another opportunity to hear directly from people affected."

Bartlett says the PUC staff has already recommended CMP get much less than it asked for— roughly $16 million in rate relief, as opposed to the $46 million proposed. He says staff also have recommended a reduction in allowable earnings for shareholders of between four and six million dollars per year.

CMP’s Hartnett says the company is proposing a compromise that would let CMP use tax savings, resulting from the 2017 federal income tax law changes, to invest in staff and upgrades instead of going to shareholders. Under the company plan, Hartnett says the rate increase would be between two and three percent, roughly the rate of inflation.

Those issues will all play out as the PUC works toward a decision. But Public Advocate Barry Hobbins says the PUC needs to slow the process down and let all the investigations be completed before making a decision on the rate hike.

“Before we have an adjudication of the case the other issues, the underlying issues of customer service, metering issues, billing issues, and the development of some confidence in Central Maine Power company by ratepayers, that needs to all be addressed before we start talking about another increase,” Hobbins told NEWS CENTER Maine.

The first public hearing was Tuesday night in Portland. Remaining hearings will be Thursday in Farmington and Monday in Hallowell.