Central Maine Power is asking the state for permission to hike electricity distribution rates for its residential customers by more than 10 percent. The proposal comes as the utility continues to face scrutiny over billing problems, and some critics also have concerns about the request.
CMP announced its proposed rates earlier this week in a letter to customers. CMP spokesperson Catherine Hartnett says the $46.5 million increase would help cover past expenses, as well as add more workers for duties such as clearing trees and being more responsive during storms.
“It’s important for us to continue to invest in maintaining the system and improve its reliability for all customers,” she says. “So it came time to actually have to go back into a rate case to request the increase.”
The utility estimates the proposal would add about $3 to the monthly bill of an average customer using about 550 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That increase raises concerns for Maine Public Advocate Barry Hobbins, who says it could disproportionately affect low-income customers. He says recent reports from his office have found that they use significantly more electricity.
“This case affects low-income ratepayers more than it does the middle class,” he says.
The proposal also comes as CMP is facing a continued public backlash over a billing system that left many customers with abnormally high bills. Last week, the public advocate’s office requested to take a more comprehensive look at the billing problems.
One longtime vocal critic of the company is Democratic Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, who chairs the state’s energy committee and has proposed a “consumer-owned” utility to replace the current options available in Maine. He describes the latest rate increases from CMP as “outrageous” and “tone deaf” to the customers of Maine in the wake of other issues.
Berry is encouraging citizens to attend and speak out at three upcoming public hearings from the Maine Public Utilities Commission concerning both the new rates and the billing problems.
“So when the people show up, speak up, it makes a difference. And now’s the time to do that,” he says.
In a public release, Central Maine Power CEO Doug Herling acknowledged that the rate increases are coming at a time when the company is facing increased scrutiny. But he says the rate changes should improve service and customer care. He adds that customers should hold the company to the “very highest standards,” and he says CMP is “working to regain their trust.”
The public hearings will be held later this month in Hallowell, Portland and Farmington. It’s expected that state regulators won’t make a decision on CMP’s new rates until October.