Philip Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission in this July 16, 2019 file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The Mills administration said Tuesday that it supports the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s decision to investigate Central Maine Power Co.’s management structure to assure the utility can provide sustainable and reliable service to customers.

The summary investigation is the first step in looking into concerns raised by a July 2021 independent audit report about CMP’s management and its effect on service. The report by Liberty Consulting Group of Pennsylvania found that CMP’s ownership structure contributed to the service problems that have plagued the company. CMP is owned by Avangrid, a Connecticut-based utility that in turn is majority-owned by Iberdrola of Spain.

The audit questioned the breadth and sustainability of service improvements made by CMP. It also expressed concern over the effect of key CMP employees and executives shifting to other parts of the organization.

CMP’s ownership structure and service issues have been key features of debate around whether a consumer-owned utility should be established to replace CMP and Versant Power and the company’s $1 billion hydropower corridor proposal through western Maine.

Commission rulings in January 2020 closed out two years of public hearings and complex examinations on two cases, a metering and billing case and a rate case. At stake were rulings on whether the commission would hold CMP and its billing system responsible for the high bills, whether it would allow customers to continue deferring contested parts of high bills and whether it would allow CMP to raise rates and by how much.

CMP, which services 640,000 Maine customers, must file an action plan with the commission by Nov. 30 on how it plans to address the concerns in the audit.

Dan Burgess, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, said the Mills administration welcomes the stronger oversight by the commission and will follow the investigation closely.

“Maine should use every regulatory tool within its power to ensure that our electric utilities are meeting their statutory mission to deliver safe, reliable and adequate services at just and reasonable rates for Maine people,” Burgess said in a statement.

CMP’s new CEO, Joe Purington, will draw on his 28 years of operations experience to address the issues, spokesperson Catharine Hartnett said. She said a filing by CMP with the commission last week detailed improvements the company has made.

The company also asked the commission last week to remove a $10 million “management efficiency adjustment,” a penalty regulators assigned the company in January 2020 for poor customer service. CMP said it has met or exceeded the performance metrics set for it over an 18-month period.

“We remain committed to sustainable improvement across the company,” Hartnett said.