In April our business reached a milestone: after 15 months of waiting (and calling and pleading) Central Maine Power finally energized a new 400-amp electrical service for our old mill building in Sanford, which serves as a small-business incubator. A few days later, we received a bill for one day’s power on the new service, which is about the size of two residential services: $11,094.78. You read that right. A day and several phone calls later, CMP acknowledged that our bill should actually have been $36.
Unfortunately for CMP, gross negligence and mismanagement are not an exception but rather the norm. It is time for our Legislature to support Rep. Seth Berry’s LD 1646 and make CMP a consumer-owned utility that is accountable to us ratepayers.
I can offer a rare side-by-side comparison between Central Maine Power and a consumer-owned utility with respect to cost and service. Between 2001 and 2017, I operated my custom woodworking business in Kennebunk with electric power supplied by Kennebunk Light and Power — one of only two consumer-owned electric utilities in Maine. In 2017, I moved my business to Sanford and became a customer of CMP. The difference was shocking, if you will pardon the pun.
When we moved the business we changed nothing about our operation other than the location and the power source. Looking at my power bills from both utilities, I see that my total cost per kilowatt-hour (including demand and all other charges) has gone from $0.13674 from Kennebunk Light and Power to $0.32714 from CMP. To save you doing the arithmetic, each unit of energy delivered is now costing me nearly two-and-a-half times as much as it did from the consumer-owned utility. No business owner in their right mind would willingly buy from a vendor charging that much more than another for the same product.
But we do not have a choice when it comes to our electric utility. If we did, we would not choose CMP. CMP’s state-sanctioned monopoly is hurting countless residents and small-business owners like us, likely costing our state jobs. Every hour that I have to spend on the phone with CMP and every dollar that I spend to support their monopoly is time and money that I could be spending to grow my business and create jobs here in Maine.
Making CMP a consumer-owned utility would save Maine ratepayers $325 million annually, according to Berry. That is in part because when we pay our power bills we aren’t just paying the costs of delivering electricity, we are also paying big dividends to investors from away. Despite the name, Central Maine Power is a subsidiary of Avangrid, a Connecticut-based company, which is in turn owned by Iberdrola, a Spanish multinational company.
Since Iberdrola bought Avangrid in 2007, its net income has increased from $58 million to $130 million. Over that same period, CMP’s payroll has actually shrunk and service quality has, predictably, declined. The vast majority of front-line CMP employees we have dealt with have been good at their jobs and sincere in their efforts. They, like us, are simply trying to work with a poorly managed company that has no incentive to change.
It’s no surprise that CMP has seen a dramatic drop in customer satisfaction. In 2013, JD Power ranked CMP first for business customer satisfaction among its peer group. Last year, CMP ranked dead last out of all 85 American utilities. That’s what happens when a company that has no competition is also owned by a multinational company that answers to its shareholders.
There is a proven solution that will put our resources to work for Maine residents and businesses. The Legislature should pass LD 1646, An Act To Restore Local Ownership and Control of Maine’s Power Delivery Systems. Let’s unleash the power of Maine.
John Costin is the owner of Veneer Services Unlimited, which makes custom veneered products for the woodworking industry.