Utility regulators have put an indefinite hold on Central Maine Power’s request for a rate hike until an investigation into the company’s billing and metering methods is complete.

Three members of the Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday approved a motion brought by the Public Advocate, the state’s utilities watchdog, to stay a decision on CMP’s request for a $46.5 million rate hike, almost 11 percent, on residential customers until multiple investigations into the company are complete.

“In the interest of transparency and the best decision possible for Maine ratepayers, the commissioners agreed that the results of the metering and billing case must be thoroughly understood before proceeding with the rate case,” PUC Chairman Philip Bartlett said in a written statement after the decision. Commissioners will change the rate case schedule to align it with the metering and billing case that is supposed to be decided in December.

Central Maine Power has come under intense public scrutiny over the last year as tens of thousands of customers saw their power bills increase 50 percent or more after the flawed rollout of a new billing system. Frustrated homeowners complained there was no explanation for the spikes and decried how CMP responded to the complaints, often by suggesting that weather, energy-supply and a customer’s power use explained the high bills.

An eight-month audit of CMP’s billing and metering system that concluded a cold snap was responsible for the power-use surges did nothing to quell consumer anger.

Dozens of angry CMP customers showed up at public hearings in Portland, Farmington and Hallowell last month to complain about the company’s billing problems, poor customer service and response to their concerns.

“Our experienced staff is devoting hundreds of hours to these cases, including hours spent with Maine consumers at public hearings and in assisting in the resolution of claims made by ratepayers,” Bartlett added. “Mainers can be assured that their testimony will play a role in these cases.”

Central Maine Power was directed by commissioners to file a rate request last October. Increased operating costs and new grid investments went into the company’s calculation that it needed a rate hike, the company said in a July letter to customers. The average monthly bill for residential customers would go up $5 if the rate hike is approved, but the company has also asked to keep the increase to no more than the 2.2 percent rate of inflation projected for this year.

The power company did not oppose the request for a stay, but wrote it was concerned that an extensive delay would cost it revenue. Instead, it asked that if the rate hike is approved it would be made retroactive to Oct. 1.

Commissioners did not make a decision on that request Tuesday, CMP spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said.

“We have understood the concerns expressed by the (Maine Office of Public Advocate), and today’s announcement by the Maine PUC to delay their decisions in the rate case until the current investigation into CMP’s metering and billing has concluded,” Hartnett said in a written statement. “We will continue to cooperatively comply with any new procedural schedule the commission finds appropriate.”

Public Advocate Barry Hobbins lauded the decision to delay the rate-hike request.

“I thought the new chairman of the commission put together a very well-thought-out, fair and balanced opinion,” Hobbins said on Tuesday.

Hobbins’ office is testing meters for a sample group of customers who have complained about high bills.

Since it was not CMP’s decision to file a rate case in the first place, there is no compelling reason to move it forward until questions are answered, Hobbins said.

“We are trying everything we can to get to the root of the problem, which unfortunately CMP has not done so far,” he said.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine and CMP Ratepayers Unite, a group planning a class-action lawsuit against the power company, both filed comments in support of delaying the rate hike.

Lauren Loomis, a spokeswoman for CMP Ratepayers Unite, was pleased commissioners voted unanimously to stay the rate case. Every day, more people come forward with problematic CMP bills, despite the company’s insistence it is fixing the problem, Loomis said. The commission shouldn’t consider a rate increase until issues are resolved and customers compensated, she said.

“It is a mess and nothing is getting better,” Loomis said.

This story was updated at 11 a.m. to clarify the increase in CMP bills. 

Related Headlines


Comments are not available on this story.