AUGUSTA — Central Maine Power is moving ahead with two major projects to modernize the state’s electrical grid.

But unjustified criticism of the company by a state official as it pursues those projects does not serve the public interest.

Together, the Maine Power Reliability Program and the Advance Meter Infrastructure project, better known as smart meters, improves reliability and safety, will let Maine consumers cut their energy spending, get better customer service, and tap our state’s growing renewable energy resources.

Our smart meter plan will meet the goals of Maine’s 2009 Smart Grid Policy Act, which calls for the introduction of new technology to empower consumers, and improve the reliability of the grid.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved this plan following a two-year review, and Maine received significant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to reduce costs to consumers.

Utilities across the country are installing 40 million meters using similar 21st-century technology.

While we are proud our company is able to make these investments, we accept that controversy often accompanies progress.

Some customers are passionately opposed to the installation of new meters with advanced communication and information management technology.

They object to having modern meters installed at their homes or even in their neighborhoods; some object to the use of any digital technology, such as a digital clock, insisting instead we should use only electromechanical meters, as we have for the past 100 years.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission staff has encouraged us to work with various parties to determine the feasibility and cost of addressing these concerns without compromising the smart meter system.

We have also voluntarily agreed to comply with any customer’s request not to have a smart meter installed pending a resolution of this by the PUC.

This newspaper recently ran a front page story about a complaint to the Public Utilities Commission by a staff attorney for the Maine Office of the Public Advocate (“CMP chastised over smart meters,” March 16).

Citing contacts from three customers who felt that CMP did not defer quickly enough to their requests not to have a smart meter installed, the OPA attorney declared CMP guilty of “outrageous” conduct and asked the PUC to “strongly admonish” the company.

His verdict came without investigation or deliberation, and his filing was made without regard to the impact his comments could have on this important project.

To date, CMP has replaced nearly 150,000 meters. A small number of customers have asked to keep their old meters pending a resolution of this case by the PUC, and we have done our best to comply with those requests.

Yet, on the basis of three unexamined complaints, the OPA staff attorney has pronounced our efforts “outrageous.”

Central Maine Power works on behalf of its customers to provide safe, reliable service. Our employees and contractors have proven themselves to be honest, thoughtful and hard-working.

Time and again, they have earned the respect and admiration of our customers.

They are equally conscientious, whether answering a customer’s phone call, restoring power during a storm or installing a new meter.

Their hard work has earned CMP the No. 1 ranking by J.D. Power and Associates in customer satisfaction among large Eastern utilities for each of the past four years.

Have there been instances where we did not properly track customers’ requests not to have a smart meter installed?

Given the scope of this project, I acknowledge the possibility. And I also fully acknowledge our responsibility to ensure the highest-quality communications and management of field personnel.

Had the OPA brought these concerns directly to CMP, we would taken steps to make sure we are giving every customer the best service we can.

That would have been an appropriate and constructive role for the public advocate. Instead, his staff seems intent on attempting to undermine the smart grid policy objectives of the Maine Legislature.

The PUC calls the smart meter project “an important technology that will ultimately reduce utility operational costs, improve customer service, and provide customers with necessary tools to use electricity more efficiently and lower their electricity bills.”

Surely the public advocate and his staff, who are paid by utility customers through a surcharge on their bills, should recognize these benefits, and could find more constructive ways to represent the public.

– Special to The Press Herald