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Public Utilities Commission takes strong action against CMP

The PUC is ordering CMP to pay for independent oversight of all still-disputed bills.

HALLOWELL, Maine — Maine’s utility regulators ended a year and a half of investigation and imposed strict new requirements for Central Maine Power (CMP)  to change how it deals with customer complaints, and continue to hunt for problems in its Smart Care billing system. 

The three PUC commissioners agreed on the premature rollout of that system late in 2017 was largely responsible for the thousands of billing problems CMP confronted a few months later.

The PUC is ordering CMP to pay for independent oversight of all still-disputed bills. 

It also ordered:

  • an independent analysis of the Smart Care billing system to determine if it is working properly. 
  •  outside oversight of the company’s call center system for handling customer complaints
  • an independent review of the company’s management structure, to search for causes of the management failures it sees as the root cause of the problems.

The PUC also will order a reduction in CMP’s return on equity for at least 18 months, which it said will reduce shareholder earnings by $10 million. 

“The commission is pushing CMP to fulfill the requirement for significant investments to customer service. billing accuracy, response to storm-related outages, reliability and preparedness. We will see to it those investments are made in total and see real change for CMP customers,” PUC Chairman Phil Bartlett said. 

CMP will also get an increase in rates of $17 million, which PUC commissioners said they had to give to cover costs for increased maintenance to make the power grid more resistant to storm damage. Bartlett said it will increase monthly bills by about two percent, although it comes at the same time as a significant decrease in electricity rates in the Standard Offer.

CMP critic ValerieHarris, who was also an official intervenor in both cases, had mild praise for the  PUC decision.

“This is a good start, in my opinion, it’s a good start. I think there is still a lot more to do...we will still fight for consumer-owned power, will still fight to have their license revoked,” she said. 

RELATED: Maine PUC billing investigation ends; CMP charged with $10M penalty to shareholders

Public Advocate Barry Hobbins also said the decision by the commissioners was a big step. He also said the $10 million penalties for shareholders is significant. 

“For Maine, that’s a lot of money and its not just a slap on the hand,” Hobbins told reporters. “That is a real tough hit for them. Because their shareholders won't be too happy.”

Central Maine Power spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said the company was not surprised by the ruling, and that it had already been making changes. 

“We’ve been hiring new folks, improving our training, we're increasing oversight of the area and do know we have months to build ion the work already done to regain the trust of ratepayers.”

RELATED: CMP pledges to improve customer notices

RELATED: CMP files response to Maine PUC, outlining corrective actions company plans to take