Mainers who would like to keep out the cold and dark are starting to wonder if a multinational corporation headquartered overseas can be trusted with such a sensitive job.

The Central Maine Power billing fiasco of the last two years has given ammunition to those who say it can’t.

As detailed in a Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram investigation, the company, owned by the Spanish energy giant Ibedrola, installed an electronic billing system in 2017 that was loaded with problems. The company failed to bill some customers for months while either undercharging or overcharging about 100,000 others, all while flatly denying there was any problem in the face of mounting evidence.

Was this was just a project-management failure, or does this episode suggest that an investor-owned monopoly put its stockholders’ interests ahead of those of its customers?

That’s the question behind a bill before the Legislature this year that proposed replacing CMP and the state’s other investor-owned electric utility, Emera Maine, with a consumer-owned power authority that would take over transmission service in the state. Supporters say that such an organization could deliver power for less, because it would not have to pay dividends to stockholders or taxes on profits. And they say it would be more accountable to the people who need electricity in Maine than a company that’s based in Spain.

Such a takeover would be a multibillion-dollar endeavor that would likely end up in extensive litigation before it’s resolved. But how far the bill has gone in the just-completed legislative session is a testament to the erosion of public confidence in CMP. Last week, the House and Senate approved a bill directing the Public Utilities Commission to conduct a study on the transition to consumer-owned power and report back to the Legislature in February. What the billing episode reveals about the company should be part of the evaluation.


Staff Writer Tux Turkel took an extensive look into the matter, and his findings include:

• Customer service representatives defended out-of-whack bills, telling customers, among other things, that someone must be stealing their power.

• Before implementing the billing system, managers skipped critical tests that would have shown them that the system was not ready to launch.

• The company downplayed the extent of the problem in communications with the regulators, stockholders and the public.

What does this have to do with the ownership structure? Plenty.

The billing problems point to a lack of accountability. The Public Utilities Commission sets rates and ensures that Maine consumers “enjoy safe, adequate and reliable services,” but it does not demand that the companies put their customers’ interests ahead of their stockholders’.


The doubts about CMP’s loyalty are more than the usual carping from customers. They are also influencing public opinion in broader policy debates, such as the reaction to a proposed transmission line through western Maine that would bring hydroelectric power from Canada into New England.

The project would be financed by ratepayers in Massachusetts, as part of that state’s commitment to limiting carbon emissions. But CMP’s leadership of the project, especially as the multiple billing missteps became known,  has fueled suspicion that the company is looking out for itself only and not for Maine.

As climate change drives the world to modernize the way we produce and use power, we are going to see more infrastructure projects like the one proposed by CMP, and some of them will be disruptive and controversial.

With what lies ahead, it’s a good time for Mainers to ask whether an investor-owned utility like CMP is the best entity to lead those changes.

So far, CMP’s response to its self-inflicted billing problems suggests that the answer may be “no.”

Correction: This editorial was corrected at 11:53 a.m. Wednesday, July 10, to more accurately reflect the nature of Central Maine Power’s problems with its new billing system.

Comments are no longer available on this story