PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Despite widespread customer complaints, Central Maine Power’s metering and billing systems were not responsible for systemic overbilling of customers, according to a report Thursday by the staff of the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
“Overall, there is simply no evidence of a metering or billing problem that is leading to erroneously high billed usage,” the report said.
But the staff report did conclude that defects associated with CMP’s new SmartCare billing system, along with human errors, caused delayed bills or errors for “tens of thousands of customers.”
Because of poor customer service, the staff recommended a move that would reduce CMP’s electricity distribution revenue by $4.9 million, while supporting a smaller-than-requested revenue increase for CMP.
Democratic Rep. Seth Berry said it was “unconscionable” to recommend any rate increase after the way CMP treated customers.
“Until CMP has made each and every customer whole for the inaccurate bills, hours spent on hold, dropped calls and illegal cutoffs, their overseas investors should not make a penny more,” he said.
The staff recommendations follow months of criticism of CMP after it rolled out a new billing system that led to a flood of complaints. The staff recommendations will help guide the commission, which begins deliberations on Jan 30.
An attorney who filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of consumers who say they were overbilled found the staff conclusion to be baffling.
“Thousands of customers of CMP have contacted us, directly and indirectly, seeking to establish a class action against the power company. These customers have been overcharged time and time again,” Sumner Lipman said.
The class-action lawsuit contends nearly 300,000 CMP customers were overbilled and that CMP failed to adequately respond to the overcharges. Instead, the company sent notices threatening to cut off customers in the dead of winter, the lawsuit said.
A previous independent audit by the Liberty Group faulted CMP leadership for errors introduced by a new billing system but found those errors to be “minimal” and concluded that the meters themselves were accurate.
The Public Utilities Commission staff concluded high electric bills in late 2017 and early 2018 were “due to a record-breaking cold snap” and “a double-digit increase” in the standard-offer electricity-supply price.
Central Maine Power said the report followed an “intensive” process that involved a variety of stakeholders.
“Our top priority is ensuring reliable service to our customers, delivered by knowledgeable and caring employees and provided at fair and reasonable rates,” the company said in a statement.