PORTLAND, Maine — Emera Maine’s new customer billing system will cost ratepayers about 80 percent more than first projected, but the company has told regulators it can explain.

Staff for the Maine Public Utilities Commission and a ratepayer advocate recommended the three-member regulatory commission approve an audit to look into the company’s management of the new customer information system and maintenance of its network of power lines.

In a response filed Monday, Emera Maine said it can justify the cost overruns in launching the $30.9 million customer information system, or CIS.

“Emera will demonstrate that the project was underestimated and underbid by the CIS vendor and the CIS consultant engaged to advise the company on this complex implementation,” the company wrote, adding that even if there were “absolutely flawless” management then coming in on budget and on time “extremely unlikely.”

Emera argued that while the project did cost more than expected, it was still less than the estimated cost of the next best alternative system.

The vendor, Cayenta Utilities, did not respond for comment Monday.

The company is seeking to recover additional distribution improvements related in a request to raise those rates 8.3 percent, or $2.40 per month for the average user among its 159,000 customers.

While Emera Maine said it could justify the costs for its customer information system, it urged regulators to either narrow or avoid a broader investigation of how Emera has managed its transmission and distribution system, the subject of a separate case opened in June.

The Office of the Public Advocate, which represents electricity customers, argued in favor of an audit, saying cost overruns for the new customer information system, billing issues and proposed transmission and distribution upgrades warrant it.

“Were these a short list of short-term problems, it would be possible to conclude that the company management was effectively managing the situation,” attorneys in the public advocate’s office wrote.

The public advocate’s office wrote that despite the audit cost falling on ratepayers, it feels the cost is worth it, weighed against the potential increase in the utility’s rates.

The customer information system had an initial projected cost of $17.3 million when it began requesting to recover those costs in its rates. By the end of that case, it projected the cost at $23.3 million.

With some expenses for implementation still pending in its Maine Public Service district, which serves Aroostook County, the project cost has reached $30.9 million, according to a company vice president, Karen Holyoke, who testified to the PUC in March.

The three commissioners will consider approval of such an audit Tuesday.

Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.