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State regulators launch investigation of utility

January 8, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine utility regulators voted Tuesday to launch a formal investigation of customer service issues at the state’s biggest electric utility revealed by an independent audit.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted 3-0 Tuesday to initiate the inquiry at Central Maine Power, a subsidiary of Avangrid, that has weathered complaints of high bills in recent months. Under state law, the commission is tasked with ensuring fair, accurate bills.

Commission spokesman Harry Lanphear said Liberty Consulting’s independent audit did not find a systemic billing or metering problem that would have led to reported complaints of overbilling beginning in early 2018.

But state regulators unanimously voted to launch a broader investigation into the audit’s findings, which include over 100,000 accounts having faced billing errors amid issues with customer communication and service. CMP would also be allowed to provide its own analysis.

“Central Maine Power has made a dismal mess of things in customer care and billing,” said Commissioner R. Bruce Williamson said during commission deliberations Tuesday morning. Williamson said CMP should have postponed the launch of its new billing system in October 2017.

CMP spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett called the regulators’ approach “reasonable” in a statement. She said the utility looks forward to a “full and fair” examination.

A class-action lawsuit filed last summer alleges that nearly 300,000 Central Maine Power customers were overbilled in 2017, possibly by tens of millions of dollars. CMP at the time said it would be hiring additional customer service representatives to be more responsive to customers when they reach out to the utility with concerns.

While the utility was accused of overbilling, the independent audit blamed high bills on extreme cold weather that coincided with a rate hike.

Democratic Rep. Seth Berry said citizens impacted by billing errors should continue reporting to state regulators and Maine’s public advocate.