- The Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) will investigate and "take action" against Central Maine Power's (CMP) proposed rate hike and new billing system, the three commissioners wrote in an opinion editorial published in the Portland Press Herald.
- The Avangrid subsidiary implemented a new billing system about a year and a half ago that resulted in billing increases for customers. "MPUC will address any service deficiencies," the commissioners wrote, adding that regulatory staff proposed a $4 million to $6 million annual reduction in earnings for the utility, "based on CMP's poor customer service."
- The regulators, led by Chair Philip Bartlett, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, said audits and investigations of CMP's billing system and customer care will continue. Three public hearings were held over the past week for customers and stakeholders.
Regulators could determine new rates, maintain current rates or reduce the rates of return for CMP, according to the op-ed signed by Bartlett and Commissioners Randall Davis and Bruce Williamson.
"We will complete audits and investigations of CMP billing and customer care, we will hear final presentations about CMP's proposed rate increase and how it will be implemented, and we will receive findings from the Office of the Public Advocate and others — and the MPUC will take action," the commissioners wrote.
The company requested a 10.65% rate increase, its first in five years, CMP told the Portland Press Herald. Bartlett told local press ahead of the public hearings last week that he had recommended a lower rate increase.
CMP did not reply to requests for comment on the editorial. The utility told the Portland Press Herald on Saturday that it couldn't comment on pending investigations.
"We are committed to doing what is required of us to restore trust in CMP... We also trust that the MPUC will continue to be a fair and indifferent forum for the regulation of ours and other regulated businesses and as it makes its decision in these cases," CMP said.
The MPUC began to investigate CMP's SmartCare billing system after regulatory staff focused on customer assistance noted potential problems with CMP meters and bills based on a spike in ratepayer complaints.
In December 2018, Liberty Consulting, an independent auditor, published that the SmartCare system "produced an unnecessarily large number of errors requiring lengthy manual correction before bill issuance." The audit also highlighted under-staffing issues with CMP's ratepayer representatives, leading to billing problem delays.
The regulatory investigation continues: The MPUC approved the Office of the Public Advocate to conduct further CMP bills analysis and customer assistance staff is working with the utility and its customers to resolve billing errors.
"It's clear that SmartCare did not deliver results anyone would expect from such a significant investment," the commissioners said in the editorial. "At the same time, ongoing shortages of customer service representatives at CMP compounded billing problems and errors and, as we have been hearing at our public witness hearings, has pushed customer frustration to the breaking point."
The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram published an investigation into CMP's billing system last month highlighting that the SmartCare system implementation skipped tests before being launched and that CMP blamed the billing problems on customers, weather and energy prices.
CMP also faces public criticism for a transmission line development that would bring hydropower from Canada into Massachusetts. Some stakeholders argue the benefits of the project, which would deliver renewable capacity from Hydro-Quebec into New England, would not outweigh the costs of developing transmission through the state.