Central Maine Power customers will get a chance to weigh in on a proposed rate hike during a series of public hearings set to begin this month.

In a news release circulated to legislative leaders Monday, the company said it is seeking approval from the Maine Public Utilities Commission for an increase in electricity distribution rates of about $46.5 million, 10.65 percent, for residential customers.

If state regulators accept its proposal, the monthly invoice for the average residential customer would increase by $3, CMP said. The monthly billing impact would have been greater, but CMP said it will limit any increases to the projected 2019 rate of inflation of 2.21 percent.

In addition to notifying legislative leaders of its proposal, CMP mailed letters to customers on Monday informing them of its proposed rate request, which was filed in October.

The rate request comes at a time when the company has come under intense scrutiny and criticism for overbilling hundreds of customers. On Thursday, the PUC granted a request from Barry Hobbins, the public advocate, to conduct more tests of CMP’s error-prone billing system.

An investigation by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram revealed that CMP misled the public and mismanaged the rollout of its new billing system, leaving thousands of angry and frustrated customers.

“CMP recognizes that these rate proposals come at a time when the company has come under scrutiny for the roll out of its SmartCare system in 2017 as well as questions about our handling of customer concerns at that same time,” Doug Herling, CMP’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

“The rate changes reflect a host of factors, most of which are aimed at assuring reliable service, improved customer care, improved storm resiliency and better response time during storm outages,” he said. “I ask our customers to continue to demand and expect quality response and service and hold us to the very highest standard. We are working to regain their trust.”

In addition to the rate increase request, the company announced Monday that the state has granted the utility company its annual price adjustment as part of its October 2018 rate case filing. That adjustment took effect Monday and will result in adding about 85 cents to the average residential customer’s monthly bill.

In his letter to customers, Herling said that the PUC expects to rule on CMP’s proposed rate increase in October, but before that happens, regulators have scheduled three hearings, including one on at the University of Southern Maine in Portland on July 16. The hearing will start at 6 p.m. at Hannaford Hall in the Abromson Community Education Center.

The hearing at USM will be followed by one on July 18 at the University of Maine in Farmington and another July 22 at the PUC offices in Hallowell. Customers also will be able to discuss billing concerns at the hearings.

In his letter to customers, Herling said that “the proposed rate increase to CMP’s revenue requirement is largely driven by increased operating costs and new grid investments made over the last five years to respond to the severe storms Maine has experienced in recent years and to modernize CMP’s distribution system and make it more reliable.”

Herling said the rate request will allow the company to add frontline staff to Electric Operations and Customer Service, increase funding for power restoration related to storms, increase funding for the tree care program, and fund investments in its electric grid.

 

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