If you’re a CMP customer and you feel mistreated, now is the time to tell your story.

Beginning next week, the Maine Public Utilities Commission will hold three public witness hearings concerning Central Maine Power. The hearings are related to two ongoing cases at the PUC: one related to CMP’s request to increase residential rates by over 10 percent, and the other in response to CMP customer complaints about unusually high bills, billing errors and poor customer service.

CMP is requesting not only a large rate increase but also a doubling of the monthly fixed customer charge. This is especially hard on lower-income Mainers and those who use electricity most frugally.

CMP delivery rates have already increased significantly in recent years. In the most recent data on the PUC website, their residential delivery rates went from 6.4 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to 8.6 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2018. This does not include the supply portion of your CMP bill, which CMP does not control.

The PUC has extensive powers to reduce CMP rates or to penalize CMP. If it chooses, the PUC can even decide that CMP is no longer fit to hold a monopoly franchise on Maine customers and require them to sell to a better company. Holding public witness hearings is an unusual step, indicating that the PUC is taking customer complaints seriously.

Given how much profit CMP is already extracting from Maine ratepayers despite its extensive mismanagement, the PUC is exactly right to do so.

In a July 2018 order, the PUC found that CMP’s return on equity was 11.52 percent for 2016 and 13.01 percent for 2017. This means that for every $100 they invest, CMP’s shareholders receive back over $1,000 in profits over a 20-year period.

Moreover, for at least a year, CMP has lied – knowingly, intentionally and repeatedly lied – to elected officials and to the public. Recently, the mainstream media have picked up on it.

More than reliability, more than rates, more than accurate bills or meters, the truth matters. A regulated monopoly that cannot tell customers the truth is no longer fit to serve those customers.

We need the PUC to understand the full extent of what CMP has done to its customers. You can help them connect the dots and remind them that it doesn’t have to be this way and that we can go in an entirely different direction.

We know that a consumer-owned utility like the one the Legislature is considering would finance at the actual cost of service. That means in the long run, hundreds of millions more dollars would stay in the state each year or could be reinvested in the grid to provide more reliable service. Finally a power company’s incentives would actually line up with the interests of Maine people.

Hearings will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus, on Thursday at the University of Maine at Farmington, and July 22 at the PUC’s offices in Hallowell. More details are available on the PUC website.

According to the PUC, “the public may comment on any aspect of these cases, but the major issues include: rate levels, service quality, customer service, call-center performance, billing issues, high bill complaints and allegations of incorrect dollar amounts or incorrect usage amounts on customer bills.”

If you cannot attend any of the hearings but still want to share your own story or statement on the record, you can write your own testimony or fill out a form on the PUC website, attest to its truthfulness before a notary, include your full contact information and reason for being unable to attend in person, and mail the notarized testimony to the Maine PUC, 18 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

The time is now for the PUC to act and to declare CMP unfit to hold a monopoly over Maine people. The time is now for a divorce between CMP and Maine.

Any change is scary, but the regulated sale of CMP to almost any other company, whether for-profit or nonprofit, can only be an improvement.

— Special to the Press Herald

An earlier version of this column misstated the increase in residential delivery rates.