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February 28, 2018

Business owners, residential customers raising questions over CMP bills

Courtesy / Maine Public Utilities Commission
Courtesy / Maine Public Utilities Commission
Maine Public Utilities Commission Chairman Mark Vannoy told Maine Public that although many complaints had been resolved, a full investigation is still warranted concerning customers' complaints about CMP's metering and billing resulting from a new billing system that was rolled out last fall.

More than 130 customers of Central Maine Power Co. have filed written comments since the Maine Public Utilities Commission launched a formal investigation of customers' complaints about the utility's metering and billing resulting from a new billing system that was rolled out last fall.

That number seems likely to grow since a group calling itself "CMP Ratepayers Unite" has launched a Facebook page that reports having 804 members. The Facebook page carries both a running conversation of posts from disgruntled CMP customers and encourages them to file formal complaints with the PUC since its investigation was launched on Feb. 22.

"This group is a forum to unite all the CMP customers who have seen a dramatic increase in their energy bill that can not be (or will not be) explained by CMP," the group posted on its Facebook page. "We demand further investigation into what is causing this increase and request a credit to our accounts."

Most of the 131 comments posted on PUC's public comment tab are from residential customers, but at least two businesses have cited concerns about unexplained increases in their CMP bills in recent months.

In a comment filed Tuesday, Joel Alex of Blue Ox Malthouse LLC in Lisbon Falls wrote: "Our business just began a review and audit of our electricity because we couldn't understand how starting at the end of last year our electricity costs more than doubled per month without explanation or notice. We were going to reach out to CMP this week before seeing this investigation open up. I am glad to hear that the commission is looking into this matter and hope it can be resolved."

Lynn R.Boynton, of G.R.F. Real Estate Co. in Swanville, wrote on Monday: "We have seen our bill at this location double for the last two months. CMP claims that our usage has doubled, but they don't give meter readings anymore for me to actually see that. This property has the same tenants as a year ago and no real increased usage .... this doesn't make any sense. We have CMP accounts at three different locations and it frightens me that we have no choice or say in these matters."

Comments filed by residential customers convey a common theme of dramatic increases in recent months that they believe to be out-of-whack with their usage, such as the allegation made by a Gardiner residential customer in a comment filed with PUC on Tuesday: "I have been double-billed and charged three times the normal amount, with nothing changing."

Maine Public reported that PUC Commissioner Bruce Williamson said the rollout of the new billing system overlapped with widespread outages caused by the late October windstorm.

"Toss in several weeks of very cold weather and increased usage that will naturally occur, and the confusion about what the observed bill increases might mean grows in intensity," Williamson told Maine Public. "In short and in retrospect customers have had the unpleasant experience of receiving poor customer care when they needed it most."

PUC's public record indicates that at least 131 CMP customers have filed complaints alleging they've been overcharged, with some customers stating their bills had doubled or even tripled despite their usage going down or staying the same since the new billing system was implemented.

PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy told Maine Public that although many complaints had been resolved, a full investigation is still warranted — adding that CMP would be held accountable for any systemic problems.

A CMP spokeswoman told Maine Public the company will cooperate with the inquiry. The utility's website includes a home page alert stating, "Severe cold weather may impact your electricity bill," with tabs guiding customers to free services that will help them manage their electricity usage and understand better how it impacts their monthly bill.

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