Unjustified bill increases, confusing bills, endless wait-times for customer service representatives who turn out to be uninformed - those were just a few of the many complaints Central Maine Power customers brought to a Portland hearing convened last night by the state's Public Utilities Commission.
Steven Dick of Poland said he lives in a five-year-old house with all the latest energy efficiency technology. And while he and his wife have not changed their energy habits, their bills, he said, are all over the map. Since last fall, he said, they've ranged from roughly $1,900 one month to about $300 in another.
So he's tried to reduce his reliance on the CMP monopoly by installing a solar array that can supply all his home's electric needs.
"I'm lucky I can do that," he said. "I've heard a lot people here that can't and that's a shame. And I think it's your duty to do something about that. I was an executive at a publicly-held company, and I would fire everybody that worked at CMP."
Dick was among the more than 80 people who turned out for the hearing.
"We are outraged," said Holly Koslowski, of Saco. Koslowski said her bills began to balloon after CMP installed so-called "Smart Meters" several years ago. That was even though she'd invested in numerous energy-saving appliances.
"How did it get this bad? Who's keeping watch?" Koslowski said. "You've got a large corporate company who is over-billing people and it's not even enough - they want a rate increase."
Some called for CMP's license to do business to be revoked. CMP officials at the hearing declined comment.
The state Public Utilities Commission is holding public hearings in two separate cases. One asks whether the company is requesting higher profits than it deserves in its monopoly territory. The other asks if CMP botched the rollout of a new billing system in 2017, whether customers were overcharged, and if so whether the company should be penalized.
Philip Bartlett, the PUC's new chairman, says CMP's system doesn't save original usage data for very long, and so some questions about bill accuracy may never be answered.
"We could not go back and look at an individual meter and say, 'Here is the actual usage history that's being recorded,'" he says. "So that's the challenge, that is the big missing piece that we've all been struggling with to see how much of this was inaccurate readings and how much of this was on the billing system end."
A CMP spokeswoman says when overcharges are uncovered, customers can expect to be compensated. And she says the number of customers with unresolved bills is now down to less than 1 percent.
CMP has asked regulators to increase consumer rates to help cover the costs of recovery from the October 2017 wind storm and for further investment in the grid's resilience. But staff at the Maine Public Utilities Commission has called for CMP's profits to be reduced.
The three-member commission, which acts like a court to decide rate cases, is holding two more public hearings, one on Thursday evening at the University of Maine in Farmington, and the other on Monday at its Hallowell offices.
Originally published July 17, 2019 at 6:09 a.m. ET.