Former Maine Gov. John Baldacci, who serves on the board of Central Maine Power Co.’s parent company, said Friday that if systemic problems led to the utility over-billing customers, it should act immediately to “make those customers whole.”

Baldacci said in an interview that he couldn’t detail internal board discussions, but he feels strongly that CMP should work to reconcile with customers who may have been unfairly over-billed while continuing efforts to rebuild trust.

“The most important thing to me is to make sure that this is all done publicly, and as transparently as possible,” said Baldacci, who was Maine’s governor from 2003-2011 and served in the U.S. House of Representatives for four terms before that.

Since 2014, Baldacci has sat on the board of Avangrid, Inc., which owns CMP under the corporate umbrella of the Spanish multinational energy giant Iberdrola.

Since 2014, former Gov. John Baldacci has sat on the board of Avangrid, Inc., which owns CMP under the corporate umbrella of the Spanish multinational energy giant Iberdrola. Press Herald staff photo

Baldacci’s statement about making sure customers are made whole went beyond what CMP officials have said about the controversy that was documented in a recent Maine Sunday Telegram investigation of how the utility mismanaged the 2017 roll-out of a $56 million billing system.

The newspaper’s investigation revealed that CMP managers rushed to implement the new billing system and skipped critical tests before its launch. As customer complaints poured in – with some receiving monthly invoices for $1,500 – CMP  blamed customers, the weather and energy prices, all the while downplaying the problems to the PUC and the public.

All told, more than 100,000 customers received inaccurate bills after the company rolled out its new SmartCare billing system in October 2017, according to CMP data.

On Friday afternoon, hours after Baldacci spoke to the Press Herald and after he made similar statements on a Portland news radio program, CMP issued its first detailed public response to the Press Herald’s investigation. In it, the company said it’s concerned for any customers who reported hardships.

“We are again reviewing the accounts of each customer featured in Press Herald reports and will confidentially provide the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) with any additional information discovered as a result of this review, including all internal records of their account usage information and interactions with our staff,” the statement read.

But CMP also said that both the company, and the PUC’s independent auditor, Liberty Consulting Group, found that it was weather and rate changes – not meter or system error – that caused high usage and rates across the system.

“Should the current investigations uncover issues that resulted in overcharging customers, we will take immediate steps to make those customers whole,” the statement read, echoing Baldacci’s comments.

This week, Maine’s Public Advocate, Barry Hobbins, said he’s still not convinced “we’ve rooted out the issues that caused the initial problem,” and called for a new test of the billing system for 1,369 accounts that were among 3,271 complaints made to the PUC. Staff at the PUC approved that request Thursday.

Because of his political past, Baldacci is the most high-profile member of the Avangrid Inc. board, and receives $200,000 annually to serve as its vice chairman. He also owns 350 shares of Avangrid stock worth about $18,000, according to a filing last September with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz had reached out to Baldacci this week to ask about the ongoing problems, but Baldacci said he couldn’t talk.

On Friday, Baldacci apologized and said he needed to finish some board-related business before he felt comfortable addressing questions.

Baldacci said he understands the public’s frustration and doesn’t mind being held accountable.

“My mother used to tell me, if you sign up for something, you have to deal with what comes with it,” he said.

Baldacci also addressed the CMP controversy earlier Friday during a radio segment on WGAN Morning News.

“The important thing is people have been hurt or they feel they’ve been hurt and they are due the vigilance that should be there,” he said. “And I think that everybody’s concerned about that and have taken steps to make sure that everything is done in a transparent aggressive fashion to build back the trust.”

In its statement Friday, CMP said that it takes “full responsibility for mistakes we made in communications and timing around the SmartCare rollout.” Customers were mailed apologies and the company also apologized in full-page print advertisements. The company has hired more staff and increased training.

But the utility also dismissed the allegations in the Press Herald investigation as re-statements of information already learned from a previous audit. It also said the company asked to meet with the paper before the story ran but was refused.

“We had important questions to ask CMP that they would not answer. Instead, they wanted to meet privately, off the record, which would have been a disservice to the public,” said Cliff Schechtman, the paper’s executive editor.

Baldacci said CMP has many good people working on the front lines to ensure quality service and to restore service during outages. He said he hopes the work they do each day doesn’t get tarnished by the billing controversy.

In addition to scrutiny by the PUC and its independent auditor, Liberty Consulting Group, CMP has been hit with a class action lawsuit from ratepayers. An amended complaint filed this week alleges that CMP President Douglas Herling, a 35-year CMP employee, knew about the errors in its new billing system and lied about its shortcomings in mass mailings to customers in January, deceiving them into a false sense of ease about their billing concerns.

The amended complaint also accused Iberdrola, the Spanish business that owns CMP’s corporate parent, of racketeering by working in concert with Avangrid to intentionally mislead customers to overpay.

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