Regulators are threatening to fine Central Maine Power for violating its rules and failing to issue monthly bills to thousands of new and existing customers and for taking too long to address customer complaints.

The scathing letter from the Public Utilities Commission’s consumer assistance division to CMP President Doug Herling was made public Wednesday. It is part of the PUC probe into problems with CMP’s new billing system, and takes the company to task for those two alleged infractions, as well as for a backlog in a referring participants to a program meant to help low-income customers who fall behind in paying their bills. The letter threatens possible sanctions such as a $500,000 fine and the possibility of reducing its profits.

“I strongly urge CMP,” wrote Derek Davidson, director of the PUC’s Consumer Assistance and Safety Division, “to take action without any further delay to remedy the problems of new and existing customers not receiving bills, AMP (low-income) participants not being properly referred to the Efficiency Maine Trust, and customer complaints not being resolved in a timely manner. Failure to resolve these issues in an expeditious manner may result in the commission taking enforcement action under one or more of the statutory provisions cited above.”

A CMP spokeswoman said the company was aware of the letter.

“We take the issues very seriously and intend to respond,” Catharine Hartnett said.

Davidson’s letter follows up on a message Herling sent to CMP customers in December, to update them on the results of an audit at the PUC that sought to understand the reasons that thousands of customers were complaining of high bills last year, following the cutover to a new billing system called SmartCare. But billing problems have persisted into 2019, and Davidson’s letter set out three areas that he says need immediate attention.

First: CMP has failed to issue bills to thousands of new and existing customers since SmartCare’s implementation on Nov. 1, 2017, and apparently has not entered thousands of new customers into the company’s customer information system. That’s a direct violation of PUC rules to issue bills on a monthly basis.

“After a full year of working with the new SmartCare system, the number of customers not receiving bills should be decreasing, not increasing,” Davidson wrote.

Second: CMP has not been referring certain customers who are behind on their bills to an energy audit program administered by the Efficiency Maine Trust as required by commission rules. Davidson said in the letter that intake forms have not been provided for program enrollees since Nov. 1, 2017, and that there is a backlog of 300 forms waiting to be processed.

“This means that the vast majority of (program) participants that enrolled after Nov. 1, 2017 have not received an Electricity Usage Assessment from the EMT and consequently have not benefitted from any of the programs offered by the EMT,” he wrote.

Third: CMP is taking too long to contact customers and address their complaints. Davidson noted CMP created a specialized team in February 2018 to resolve customer complaints of high usage referred by the PUC’s consumer division. Initially, CMP agreed to contact each customer within two business days of the referral by Davidson’s division. Because of the large number of customers, the contact period was extended to two weeks, at CMP’s request.

“Since the inception of the team,” Davidson wrote, “CMP has not contacted customers within the agreed-upon two-week period. In my Sept. 21, 2018 letter to you, I expressed concern regarding the team’s slow response to customer complaints and the resulting large backlog. In your Oct. 5, 2018 response, you stated that the company had increased resources dedicated to this effort and would scale the resources flexibly going forward to meet the fluctuating volume of inquiries referred. Despite this assurance, there has not been an obvious improvement in the team’s performance.

“As of today, information provided by CMP indicates that the Team has failed to reach and resolve over 1,000 customers referred to it.”

Davidson noted the PUC may take certain actions when a utility is in violation of a commission statute, order or rule. They include: administrative penalties of up to $500,000; the ability to hold a utility in contempt; and the ability to reduce profits.

It is unclear how much impact a $500,000 fine would have on the company. Avangrid Inc., CMP’s parent company in Connecticut, reported a net profit of $351 million in 2017.

The PUC sets how much of a return CMP shareholders can earn under the terms of its contract. In that context, the PUC can affect CMP’s profitability.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

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