Maine Public Advocate Barry Hobbins. Credit: Lori Valigra | BDN

Central Maine Power has asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission to deny a request from the public advocate to publicly release confidential documents related to high bills, saying it would be too burdensome on the utility to redact all the sensitive information.

The documents are part of an investigation launched March 20 by the utilities commission into CMP after customers complained about unusually high electric bills and customer service issues. The investigation is looking at technical aspects of CMP’s billing and metering system.

“Given the attention being paid to this case by customers, I believe that keeping what is filed confidentially to a minimum is in the public interest,” Maine Public Advocate Barry Hobbins wrote in a May 9 letter to PUC hearing examiner Charles Cohen and CMP attorney Richard Hevey.

He has a copy of the confidential file, and said in the letter it looked like a lot of the material contained customer names and numbers that could be redacted, and some parts contained no customer information.

In a filing late Wednesday with the PUC, Hevey said CMP agrees with the spirit and intent of the public advocate’s request, but does not support the commission granting it.

He said CMP has filed more than 10,000 pages of documents containing confidential customer information to date.

“By the time discovery is completed in this summary investigation, many more thousands of pages of confidential information may be disclosed,” Hevey wrote. “Using conservative estimates of 15,000 pages and 1.5 minutes per page for manual review and redaction, the document redaction requested by the [public advocate] would take CMP at least 375 hours.”

He added the requiring such effort in the summary investigation would amount to an unnecessary and undue burden on CMP and divert resources away from responding to the PUC’s investigation.

Hevey asked the commission to deny the public advocate’s request or alternatively, limit the number of redacted documents so it would not be an unreasonable burden to CMP.

Hobbins said he has only asked for a specific set of documents containing some internal correspondences, not everything CMP has filed, and that shouldn’t be a burden to redact.

“I don’t have an objection to discussing whether or not there are certain confidential documents that don’t need to be reclassified or redacted,” he said. “But the fact that they don’t want to do any because it is an inconvenience to them … I think the company has to be careful so it doesn’t look like they are hiding something.”

He said at this point he is waiting for the PUC’s hearing office to make a decision on the CMP request.

The documents Hobbins was asking to be made public are part of CMP’s responses to the commission’s request for copies of internal correspondence related to the high bills. Some of the correspondence indicates the utility’s management knew of the billing system problems early on, and one email suggested the problems might spark a PUC investigation.

Two public files had a total of 567 pages of correspondence, PowerPoint presentations and photos of erroneous smart meter readings. But the third file marked “confidential” was closed to public viewing.

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