December 09, 2019
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Maine public advocate plans to file its findings on CMP problems by the end of August

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Maine Public Utlities Commissioner examiner Charles Cohen speaks at a public hearing in Portland on July 16.

The state’s Office of the Public Advocate said Tuesday that it plans to file the results of its examination of problematic Central Maine Power accounts by the end of August.

The timeframe came during a telephone conference today on the status of the public advocate’s investigation.

The call included representatives from the public advocate, CMP, the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the Governor’s Energy Office and BerryDunn, which is conducting the tests on high bills and metering problems for the public advocate’s office. The Bangor Daily News also was on the call.

“We think we can get the testimony done and filed by the end of August,” said Liz Wyman, senior counsel for the public advocate. The commission plans to make a decision on the case by the end of this year.

She said Julie Keim of BerryDunn has sorted through the customer information CMP provided to the public advocate and divided it into several buckets of cases, some of which need further review.

“Julie is sorting through them and on Wednesday will send another round of questions to CMP,” she said.

Commission examiner Charles Cohen, who headed the phone call, said the commission hopes to make a decision on what to do about the billing and metering issues by the end of this year, but it first needs the public advocate’s report.

The commission staff has recommended cutting CMP’s profits for poor performance.

“It will be aggressive to get this done by the end of year,” Cohen said. “The first domino is [the public advocate’s] testing. Once we get that set and know when that’s going to fall, we can put the other dominoes in place.”

Wyman said the public advocate plans to submit other information at the same time it submits its forensic analysis from Keim’s group at the end of August. It plans to submit separate testimony from Laurel Arnold, a BerryDunn expert on implementation of CMP’s metering system, which some customers blame for the high bills.

Cohen said the commission staff also might file a bench analysis with additional information at that time.

He said the commission plans to circulate a draft of the remaining schedule for testimony, reports and deliberations.

The public advocate in June asked the commission to delve deeper into continuing reports from customers that they were receiving excessively high electric bills.

Even though an audit last December by Liberty Consulting Group of Pennsylvania blamed the high bills on weather and not CMP’s billing system, the high bills persisted, with customers continuing to complain to the utility and to the commission. The public advocate is examining problematic bills after the Liberty audit ended.

CMP spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said in June that the utility welcomed the additional look at the system in hopes that consistent answers will help the public regain trust in the company and its system.

Since then, the commission held public hearings July 16, 18 and 22, during which it heard detailed complaints of high bills and problems getting satisfactory resolutions through CMP’s customer service.

Additionally, the Governor’s Energy Office on Monday asked to become an intervenor in the commission’s billing and metering case and several others, including Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, notified the commission that they will be submitting testimony.

“The general subject matter of my testimony may include the problematic structure of the company and misaligned priorities that may have contributed to the problems surfaced in this and in the closely related docket on rates and customer service, the fundamental mismanagement of the company’s core duties as shown in this and in the closely related case, and other concerns raised by evidence already on the record,” Berry wrote in his notification to the commission on July 18.

 



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