State regulators got an earful Tuesday night from purchasers who vented their frustration and anger with Central Maine Power Co. Over its billing and customer support practices.
CMP customers informed the Maine Public Utilities Commission that their bills doubled or tripled after a brand new billing system become set up extra than 18 months in the past. They got no clean answers when they sought an explanation from the electricity distribution corporation, which serves southern and vital Maine.
“CMP is the simplest bill I pay that I don’t know what I pay for,” said Heather Payson of Cape Elizabeth. “The lack of transparency could be very frustrating.” Many said that the software hadn’t earned the feed boom it’s miles seeking. The organization has filed to get a fee hike of approximately $46 million, or greater than 10 percent.
Tuesday’s hearing at the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine changed into the primary of 3. The PUC will keep getting input from the public. The PUC investigates CMP’s coping with a switchover to a brand new billing machine extra than 18 months ago that, thousands of clients said, ended in sharply higher payments.
The PUC also calls into how CMP’s customer service team of workers handled court cases and questions over those payments. Many of the speakers on Tuesday said it fell short.
Some said they were promised call-backs that never got here; others stated it often took as long as an hour at the telephone on-hold earlier than they could get via to someone. “Their customer support is horrific,” stated Michael Adams of Windham. “I don’t see myself as a patron or a ratepayer – I’m a victim.”
Others stated that no matter the motive for the problems, the PUC needs to turn down the requested fee hike.
“There’s glaringly something wrong, billing-sensible or meter-clever,” said Tasha Dolce of Alfred. “Your arms may be as responsible as theirs if you permit it.” The new chairman of the PUC said regulators are as worried as CMP clients about the company’s billing practices and how it treated callers in search of answers. “We share the issues of clients who are upset with the response of CMP,” Phil Bartlett stated.
Last month, a Portland Press Herald investigation discovered that CMP bungled the rollout of the brand new billing machine, mismanaged purchaser responses, and misled the public about the scope of the issues. At one point, CMP had despatched out greater than 100,000 faulty bills. A few months after the new billing machine was released, 97,000 clients received bills that have been 50 percent or higher than the equal three-month duration a yr earlier.
The Press Herald reporting discovered that CMP and its figure organization had taken shortcuts on testing and skirted industry fine practices with the release of its SmartCare billing gadget. The ensuing complaints have brought on three separate investigations and a lawsuit. On Tuesday, some blamed CMP’s “smart meters,” which the enterprise has established and can be studied remotely instead of having to ship meter-readers out to gather usage records for billing. Adams, the Windham client, stated he had CMP update his meter with an older analog meter, and his usage and bills have reverted to what they had been earlier than the smart meter become established.
Many speakers at the listening to stated the troubles display that CMP doesn’t deserve a rate hike. The PUC workforce has advocated that the fee reduces approximately $30 million from the asked increase, which includes a discount of CMP’s annual earnings of approximately $four million to $6 million to stay in the area until the utility meets the customer support requirements. The business enterprise said it is seeking a price hike because of growing working prices and enhancing CMP’s distribution system’s reliability.
Bartlett stated hearings like Tuesday’s are “crucial” to collecting records for the research and the price hike request. The PUC is anticipated to rule on the rate hike in October and finish its research on customer service and billing issues later this yr. Before the hearing, members of the Maine Small Business Coalition known as on the PUC to revoke CMP’s license and force the sale of the software to any other business enterprise or turn it into a consumer-owned operation. “CMP has were given to head,” stated country Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham. Berry has been a vocal critic of the corporation and submitted regulation to distribute power in southern and vital Maine taken over through a customer-owned application. That invoice has been sure over for a similar examination.
Bartlett said the PUC would request proposals for consultants to help with the look. The record to the Legislature is due in February. Rob DuPaul, a contractor from Sanford, stated sharply higher electric bills contributed to his financial disaster. CMP advised that inefficient appliances, cold climate, or someone stealing electricity brought on the better payments, but DuPaul stated none of those changed into valid for bills that nearly tripled the winter earlier than closing.