Maine’s utilities watchdog is asking the Public Utilities Commission to hit the pause button on its investigation into Central Maine Power’s rates until questions about the company’s billing, metering and management accountability are resolved.

In a letter to the PUC, Public Advocate Barry Hobbins made a motion to stay the proceeding until his office completes a new round of meter testing on a sample group of customers who have complained about high bills. Results are expected by late August.

Both CMP and an independent audit done last year for the PUC by the Liberty Consulting Group failed to find widespread technical problems to explain the high bills, but the Public Advocate’s Office and its consultant are reviewing a more recent time period.

“CMP ratepayers should not have to face the possibility of a rate increase when there are significant pending questions about CMP’s billing system,” Hobbins wrote.

The accuracy of CMP’s new SmartCare billing system has been under fire since it was launched late in October 2017.

The PUC has yet to respond to Hobbins’ request, which is expected to be put out for comment by formal parties in the case.

A CMP spokeswoman said the company is awaiting the regulators’ ruling.

“We understand the concerns expressed by the public advocate in his motion to stay, and CMP will fully and cooperatively comply with whatever procedural schedule the commission determines appropriate,” Catharine Hartnett said in a statement to the Press Herald.

Hobbins’ motion is being considered as the PUC begins three days of technical hearings on Wednesday, in which parties including CMP, the PUC, Liberty Consulting and the CMP Ratepayers Unite citizen group question witnesses on various topics. Those subjects include CMP’s return on equity, customer service and the SmartCare implementation.

In a separate PUC proceeding focused on the billing problems, a handful of parties have signed up to add testimony or intervene in the case. They include Lauren Loomis, a representative of CMP Ratepayers Unite, Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham and the Governors Energy Office, which represents Gov. Janet Mills.

 

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