Local lawmakers demand action by PUC over CMP billing errors

Sep 28, 2019
At PUC headquarters in Hallowell, from left, Reps. Charlotte Warren, Jeffrey Evangelos, Thom Harnett, and William Pluecker met with PUC officials and others.

Augusta — Four members of the Maine House of Representatives met Sept. 23 with Public Utilities Chairman Phil Bartlett to demand that Central Maine Power be held fully accountable for the billing and metering errors that have cost individual customers thousands of dollars in overcharges since the utility rolled out its error-prone "smart"  system in late 2017.

The meeting was arranged by Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, independent of Friendship. Also attending the meeting were Reps William Pluecker, an independent from Warren; Charlotte Warren D-Hallowell and Thom Harnett D-Gardiner. The group was joined by PUC General Counsel Mitch Tannenbaum, who has served the PUC in a legal capacity for 34 years.

Evangelos asked for the meeting subsequent to his testimony delivered to the PUC July 22 at the PUC headquarters in Hallowell, where he demanded that the PUC force CMP to provide full customer refunds.

In a news release, Evangelos stated that he "was alarmed at news reports that indicated the PUC staff had taken the position that the billing issues were all weather-related.

"That's absolute nonsense, 100,000 Mainers are not lying, and our group is determined that Maine ratepayers receive justice," Evangelos stated in the news release.

Pluecker also questioned the figures and asked the commissioner if the people had received refunds

"I find it hard to believe that all these people have received refunds, given the level of complaints that are ongoing. The people of Maine have lost confidence in CMP, and that confidence won't come back anytime soon," Pluecker stated in the news release.

Bartlett admitted that many people had not received refunds, but said the investigation is ongoing. He stated that it will be 60 to 90 days before the PUC commissioners finish their investigation. Tannenbaum agreed with Pluecker, stating that the worst part of the billing error situation was that Maine people had lost their faith in CMP and it would be difficult to repair the damage.

Pluecker raised the rate increase case now before the commission. "Will CMP's billing mistakes and poor customer service be factored into the rate increase discussions? Will you be considering a lower rate increase or a lower rate of return in light of these problems at the utility?" Bartlett responded that "Yes, it is very likely that any rate increase consideration would have to be  balanced against the billing and metering system problems, as well as deficiencies in customer service."

The four legislators raised serious concerns about the recent findings of PUC staff that concluded  the problems were all weather-related. The legislators pointed out that Public Advocate Barry Hobbins produced a study conducted by the Portland firm Berry Dunn,  a certified public accounting and management consulting firm, that contradicted the PUC  staff's findings and confirmed that the billing and metering problems were real and were caused by various technical factors that allowed for inaccurate bills to customers. In response, Bartlett stated that while his staff had issued such a report, the three PUC commissioners had not taken a position on it and were working with Hobbins to resolve the dispute.

The legislators also expressed deep concerns about the foreign ownership of CMP. "It's so easy from the corporate desks in Spain to get away with this mess," Evangelos stated. "The whole country went wild on a merger-and-acquisition spree and now we have a corporation that is unaccountable for their actions. This never happened when CMP was a locally owned utility." Tannenbaum agreed. "I've been here 34 years, and it is certainly true that things have changed a lot since the foreign acquisition of CMP."

Warren summed up the feelings of the four legislators, especially when it came to senior citizens sitting at home on a limited fixed income. "In some of these cases, these billing errors amount to 50 percent of a person's monthly Social Security check. It's a disgrace," she stated.

The four legislators plan to continue their discussions with the PUC, and will be receiving information from Hobbins as the investigation continues. In the meantime, the legislators urged their constituents to call the 1-800 number and file a complaint if their bill was affected by the metering and billing errors.

The PUC's Consumer Assistance Division number is 1-800-452-4699.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Oct 01, 2019 08:43

So Dan who wrote this story and why is there no mention of in what sections of the state these billing errors occurred and who was effected.  This is the first I am hearing of this and am sure many would like to know if their bills contained errors as well.  Perhaps anyone should just call the PUCs help line and wait on hold for hours until someone comes on who knows little of the issue.

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