The Maine Public Utilities Commission will hold three public meetings in July to discuss Central Maine Power’s proposal to change distribution rates and complaints about high bills starting after the major storm in the fall of 2017. Credit: Lori Valigra

The Maine Public Utilities Commission said Tuesday that it has scheduled three public meetings to address ongoing complaints about Central Maine Power’s high electricity bills following the October 2017 windstorm and CMP’s proposal to change distribution rates.

The meetings will be held at the University of Southern Maine in Portland on July 16, at the University of Maine at Farmington on July 18 and in Hallowell at the commission’s office on July 22. All hearings start at 6 p.m. More details are here.

The hearings will review two PUC case dockets. Number 2018-00194, which can be read on the commission’s website, will hear public comments on CMP’s proposal to change its distribution rates.

Issues to be discussed include service quality and customer-service problems, including CMP call-center performance and billing problems involving billing delays and how information is presented on bills.

Docket 2019-00015 will address complaints about high bills beginning Nov. 1, 2017, including allegations of incorrect dollar amounts or incorrect usage amounts.

The complaints began shortly after the October 2017 windstorm, which knocked out power to electric customers throughout the state. Around the same time, CMP started using a new customer billing system that some consumers have blamed for high bills.

Independent auditors found that CMP’s high bills were related to the storm and mostly not from smart meters and the new billing system. However, the auditors did fault CMP for not handling the transition to its new billing system last fall well enough and causing concern among consumers.

Still, high bills continue to be an issue for some customers. There are several organized groups working to get relief for consumers, including a closed Facebook group with more than 7,800 members called CMP Ratepayers Unite.

Members of a class action lawsuit against CMP are alleging that more than 97,000 of the utility’s customers have been overcharged 50 percent or more on their electricity bills, and another 200,000 customers have been overcharged up to 50 percent.

Any member of the public who is not a party to either of the PUC dockets can be a public witness in either or both cases.

A public witness may give testimony under oath. That sworn testimony will become part of the official record of the case. The PUC said it may rely on the testimony for its final decision in the case.

Testimony that is not given under oath will not become part of the official record and thus not used by the PUC as part of its deliberations.

In its initial testimony submitted on May 8 to the PUC regarding metering and billing issues, CMP acknowledged ongoing issues or “exceptions” with bills, including those that affect the dollar amount due from a customer and others that it called “presentation errors” on how customers see information on their bills.

CMP also submitted testimony on how it implemented its SmartCare customer information system.

“When errors are identified, the company addresses them promptly, working to identify the cause and, if the error was caused by a system defect, the appropriate code correction needed,” the testimony said.

“CMP is striving to resolve all exception cases impacting billing within a 30-day timeframe,” it said. “The company is also committed to mitigating and correcting any negative customer impacts from errors.”