Central Maine Power is contending with a new public relations challenge, after the Portland Press Herald revealed that the company failed to bill thousands of new customers for electricity they used, and may try to charge the rest of its customer base to cover the expense.
CMP says it has seen a surge in new service requests driven by a residential building boom in southern Maine. Spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett says the new hookups coincided with some retirements in CMP’s billing department, related to a companywide early-retirement incentive CMP had offered employees.
She says about 3,400 new CMP customers who are receiving electricity haven’t been billed for all or some portion of it, in some case for two months or more.
“We are not imposing our lack of ability to create an account on the individual accounts who are not receiving bills. We are only charging them for the past 30 days of use and we feel that’s fair to those customers,” she says.
Hartnett says the total value of lost revenues will not be calculated until the books are closed on 2018. And she adds that it’s possible that when CMP subsequently asks the Public Utilities Commission to approve a new rate structure, the company may ask that all its customers make up any shortfall created by the undercharges.
PUC Spokesman Harry Lanphear emphasizes that the commission can hold ratepayers harmless for lost sales that are due to a company failure, and instead could put the onus on CMP’s investors.
“To the extent that a utility’s management practices are found to be unreasonable or not prudent on a particular issue, the commission would determine the most appropriate remedy to protect ratepayers. That’s what we do. Including have shareholders absorb those costs,” he says.
The commission has several inquiries open on CMP’s billing practices and rates, including a comprehensive audit of apparent overbillings to tens of thousands of customers. That audit is expected to be issued this month.