I own and run a small contracting business. I didn’t become a small business owner to get rich, but rather in order to do what I love — repairing homes and supporting myself and my family.
Unfortunately, Central Maine Power is making that increasingly difficult. Two winters ago, I was already going through a rough patch. A divorce and child support payments were taking a financial toll and I started to get into debt. And then my electricity bill started to skyrocket. CMP had just replaced my electricity meter and my electricity bill jumped from $100 one month to $400 the next month. Then we had a bill for $1,500 without any changes in electricity use.
I used the small amount of savings I had left to update my electrical appliances — refrigerator, oven, stove, air conditioner, hot water heater, washer and dryer, and lighting — with new energy-efficient models, all with the hope of lowering my CMP bill. However, nothing worked.
I called CMP. They asked me if I had started running a business out of my home, or if somebody might be stealing electricity from me. My answers were all no, no, no.
I became desperate for a way to cut my CMP bill. My fiancee Elizabeth and I didn’t need a big house, so we decided to sell our house in order to pay off our debt and avoid bankruptcy.
But the high utility bills scared off all the potential buyers. No one wanted to face $1,500-a-month electricity bills. We even dropped the price of our house twice, from $134,900 to $119,000, but no takers. No one wanted to pay more for electricity than they would for a mortgage.
I ended up having to file for bankruptcy. While I’ve emerged from it, I still owe CMP about $4,000. I shouldn’t have to go broke paying for something that isn’t right.
As a small business owner, I was not surprised to learn that Central Maine Power ranked dead last in business satisfaction out of all 87 major utilities in the nation. It ranked far worse than PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy after causing massive wildfires in California. And Emera, Maine’s other investor-owned utility, isn’t much better. That’s why we were recently granted the unenviable distinction of having “longer, more frequent power outages than any other state.”
Maine deserves better. That’s why I am excited that our state Legislature is currently considering An Act To Restore Local Ownership and Control of Maine’s Power Delivery Systems. It would create the Maine Power Delivery Authority, a consumer-owned utility with a democratically elected board that would function like a nonprofit water district.
It’s not just a pipe dream. Consumer-owned utilities already serve three in 10 Americans in 49 states. For consumer-owned utilities like the proposed Maine Power Delivery Authority, rates are 13 percent lower and the reliability is twice as good. That’s because instead of paying foreign investors a 10-12 percent return like CMP and Emera do, consumer-owned utilities serve their customers — ratepayers. It also would likely mean much greener energy. Since a consumer-owned utility’s responsibility would be to its customer-owners, its top priorities would be lower rates and reliable service.
It would be a welcomed change. Shortly after CMP rolled out its SmartCare billing system, nearly 100,000 Mainers saw their electricity bills rise by at least 50 percent. Mercifully, my CMP bills finally returned to normal levels after I demanded to be taken off of CMP’s SmartCare system, but CMP’s default billing system is harming Maine families. That has grave impacts in a state where nearly half of all people are unable to afford an unexpected $400 expense. For countless Mainers, a sudden inexplicable rise in their electricity bills means they have to choose between going hungry and keeping the lights on. That’s just not a choice that Mainers should have to make.
That’s why I was pleased to hear Gov. Janet Mills’ remarks at her annual State of the State address in January. She called on us all to “work together to ensure that Maine consumers are at the table, that profits do not take precedence over service.” Referring to Iberdrola, the Spanish multinational corporation that owns CMP, Mills said our utilities should be “answerable to Maine, not to Spain or some other foreign country.”
I could not agree more. That’s why I urge our legislators to support LD 1646, An Act To Restore Local Ownership and Control of Maine’s Power Delivery Systems.
Rob DuPaul of Sanford is a small business owner.