HALLOWELL, Maine — Thousands of Central Maine Power customers—and the state’s Public Advocate— said they are not happy after the staff of the Public Utilities Commission agreed with CMP that its metering and billing systems are accurate, that cold weather and higher electric rates caused a spike in bills two years ago, and that CMP should get a rate increase, although a much smaller one than it wants.
The PUC staff issued its report and recommendations late Thursday afternoon. They are just recommendations, and the actual decision will be made by the three PUC Commissioners. Those deliberations are scheduled for the end of this month.
The billing problems arose in January 2018 and ultimately led to nearly 100,000 complaints to the PUC or Public Advocate, according to those state officials.
A number of unhappy customers banded together to form a Facebook group called CMP Ratepayers Unite. Judith Hyde of Pownal is an administrator of the group and said Thursday she and others are disappointed, though not surprised by the PUC staff report.
“This has gone on over two years and these bills are still coming.,” she said. “If you look on ratepayers every day, there are people say I just got this new bill I don’t understand it I’ve gotten two bills in a month or I got a disconnect notice and I’ve been disputing my bill what is this?”
The staff recommendations include requiring CMP to create an independent audit system to streamline the handling of customer bill complaints, as well as another independent review of the “SmartCare” billing system, which went online shortly before the problems began.
The staff also recommends the Central Maine Power get a $20 million rate increase, about half of what the company is asking for.
Maine Public Advocate Barry Hobbins, who has been a harsh critic of CMP in the case, told NEWS CENTER Maine he is very disappointed by the report and will fight the recommendations. Hobbins says he will try to persuade the commissioners to delay any rate increase until all the remaining reviews are finished, and not until a law.