The billing issues plaguing Central Maine Power customers are harming people’s lives and inexcusable, and are just the latest example of Maine’s biggest utility’s troubling record. The consequences of these and other CMP failures have a much broader negative impact on Maine’s future. They seriously threaten our state’s ability to meet its climate and energy-related goals.

CMP’s customer service and billing ineptitude shows how woefully far this corporation is from what should be the primary mission of a 21st century, forward-looking utility: to use modern technology and information to give customers more choices, more independence, and lower costs.

CMP’s track record ranges from incompetence to obstructionism. They have bungled the most basic task of reliably tracking electricity usage and providing data (to consumers and themselves) so we can all better manage our electricity use. While elsewhere smart meters have been used to help ratepayers manage their energy use or integrate clean energy technology, CMP’s expensive upgrade to smart meters (which we all paid for) was mostly used to save the company money by laying off workers.

Recently CMP proposed spending $215 million of ratepayer money to upgrade transmission systems in Cumberland County. The law requires them to identify lower cost alternatives (such as energy efficiency or distributed solar). These cost-effective solutions have been used across the nation and in Maine. They benefit consumers but they don’t result in the same level of profits for CMP shareholders. Big surprise: CMP claimed to have found virtually no alternatives to their proposal.

This kind of profits-before-customers mindset is why CMP continues to overbuild its antiquated system, resulting in their delivery rates going up 50 percent since 2008. The utility is so astoundingly out of touch and profit-driven that it has proposed another big rate increase for Maine households and businesses.

Make no mistake. CMP is not the climate savior they would have you believe they are. Over the past decade CMP has spent countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists and lawyers to block real, substantive progress on clean energy. I know because I have been there in the room, at the Legislature and the Public Utilities Commission, to push back against this corporation on behalf of NRCM’s 25,000 supporters. From energy efficiency to solar and offshore wind, CMP has worked to slow Maine’s progress.

In the case of their controversial corridor project through Western Maine, their new professed concern about climate change is an empty talking point. Behind the scenes their lawyers have fought tooth and nail to keep testimony and evidence on climate change out of the regulatory reviews. CMP and Hydro-Quebec refuse to provide verifiable evidence that the project will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions overall.

The transition to a clean energy economy will create jobs, help towns save money, keep billions of dollars from leaving Maine’s economy, foster business opportunities, and help reduce costs for everyone. Our state’s utilities should be partners in this transformation.

Core to the clean energy transition will be “strategic electrification”, using electricity that comes increasingly from renewables, with high-efficiency equipment, to displace dirty, imported fossil fuels. It will be impossible to meet our energy goals, whether you focus on carbon reductions or energy security, without a sophisticated and intelligent electrification strategy. A modern, well-managed electricity grid must play a vital role in this future.

The true benefits of electrification don’t just come from swapping out furnaces for heat pumps or gas guzzlers for electric cars. Nor simply installing many more solar panels. We must do all of those, and fast. However consumers must be empowered to generate and store their own electricity, and use technology to control when they use power, what they do with it, and when they send it back to the grid. Utilities that integrate these smart grid solutions reduce costs to ratepayers and help move us toward a renewable energy future. It is complex work that makes sending accurate bills looks like child’s play.

As society faces the monumental challenge of climate change and consumers want affordable energy costs, Maine needs a modern, dynamic electricity grid and a capable, forward-thinking utility. Currently we have neither. Unless that changes, Maine’s future will not remain as bright as it should be.


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