The Maine Public Utilities Commission in Hallowell. Credit: Lori Valigra

The Maine Public Utilities Commission issued a statement Tuesday aimed at calming irate Central Maine Power customers who remain concerned about high electric bills and whether the commission will help them.

The renewed concern came after commission staff on Thursday issued two reports saying that there were no systemic problems with CMP’s metering and billing system, and that CMP should be allowed to raise certain rates by 8.1 percent.

A final decision on the metering and billing case and the rate case will be made by commissioners Jan. 30.

However, since the two staff examiner’s reports were released, customers have been submitting strongly worded complaints to the commission.

“Once again, you have failed to meet the mandate of your responsibilities to Maine consumers. You slap the hands of CMP for gross mismanagement and then turn around and gift them a huge rate increase. Who do you serve?” wrote Robert Abbey of Gardiner.

The Maine Office of the Public Advocate, which represents consumers, was quick to criticize the commission staff’s recommendations last week.

“If the commission staff thinks we can just wipe our hands of this and it’s going to go away, they haven’t read the pulse of the Maine people and ratepayers,” Public Advocate Barry Hobbins said after the reports were released. “There’s going to still be that question of trust and integrity of the billing and metering system until there are answers.”

The commission’s consumer assistance and safety division, which has been handling the consumer complaints, said it issued its message Tuesday because of “confusing press coverage” that gave customers the impression that the reports meant their complaint would not be addressed. The division did not specify which press coverage was confusing and how.

“This is just not accurate. In no situation will a customer’s complaint simply be closed; every complaint will be addressed on a case-by-case basis,” said Derek Davidson, director of the division. “The examiner’s reports are recommendations from commission staff and no final decisions have been made related to CMP’s metering and billing issues.”

He said the reports made no recommendations on the resolution of individual complaints, which the division will continue to address.

The commission said most complaints occurred during late 2017 and 2018, a period during which 1,082 complaints were received and 960, or 89 percent, were resolved.

The division said in a statement that it has directed CMP to issue more than $346,000, or about $200 per case, in billing credits to the consumers who filed complaints with it.

“We want to be certain that consumers understand that we are here to help them resolve their complaints relating to billing or other issues,” Davidson said. “We have eight full-time dedicated staff working on these issues every day. Every case is unique, and we work very closely with each customer to address their issue.”

In one of their reports, commission staff recommended terminating the interim payment policy that has allowed customers to defer paying contested parts of their bill. Davidson said that until the commission makes its final decision, the interim payment policy remains in place. Customers must continue to pay the undisputed portion of their bill.