The Maine Governor’s Energy Office asked electricity regulators to consider increasing management penalties to Central Maine Power when they make their final deliberations on an ongoing rate case next Thursday.
The request came in a filing with the Maine Public Utilities Commission Thursday as part of the review process for two cases involving CMP, a billing and metering case and a requested rate increase. The commission’s staff issued recommendations on both cases on Jan. 9. The final decision on the cases by commissioners is scheduled for Jan. 30.
“Given that the [commission staff] report in this docket finds imprudent decisions regarding the implementation of [the billing and metering system] and that some defects continue to persist, we urge the consideration of increased management penalties in the ongoing CMP rate case that would be in place until the company resolve the deficiencies,” energy office Director Dan Burgess wrote in the filing.
In its rate case report, commission staff recommended an increase of 2.45 percent in an average residential bill each month starting March 1. But that is less than half of what CMP was originally seeking. The increase is for improvements to customer service and reliability.
The energy office also asked commissioners to continue the interim payment policy that has allowed CMP customers to defer payment on the disputed part of their bill until such customer complaints have been resolved.
And it asked the commission to be open to other investigative methods that go beyond the commission staff’s recommendations.
The commission itself has been a target of complaints by customers who say their concerns aren’t being heard.
Burgess asked the commission to include a transparent process that would allow for public comments and/or creating an independent advisory panel to review the results of a recommended Independent Electricity-Use Audit Program for customers who still have high energy use.
The filing comes just days after Gov. Janet Mills said in her State of the State address that Maine should reconsider how it regulates utilities and assure customers are getting good service.
Doug Herling, CMP’s president and CEO, said he agrees with what the governor said.
“We need to make Maine people first,” he told the Bangor Daily News Friday. “We are adding call center representatives and line positions and have increased training in the last few months. We’ve added a vice president of customer service focused on Maine and a ‘customer champion.’” The customer champion is former six-term Maine legislator Dawn Hill, who started work on Jan. 1 to help identify problems within the organization.
CMP’s problems have continued to mount, most recently with the utilities commission giving the company until next Tuesday to respond to a notice of investigation into its winter disconnection policies and show cause about why it should not be penalized.
Herling earlier this week told News Center Maine that he was “horrified” by the language and tone of some of the disconnect notices. Some of the notices said CMP could disconnect electricity without approval from the utilities commission. That is not allowed in residences that are occupied.
“We have a full-fledged investigation now into how that happened,” he told the BDN. “It is an internal investigation led by our lead counsel. Customer service, regulatory and legal employees are working on it. We’ll have the results next Tuesday.”
Herling could not answer how the company continues to attract criticism for its business practices, but said it is a large company and correcting problems will take time.
“It’s like turning a big ship,” he said.