Central Maine Power utility lines are seen, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, in Pownal. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine’s two largest electric companies ranked last in the eastern region on this year’s J.D. Power customer satisfaction study released Wednesday, following a national trend of lower ratings driven in part by rising bills.

Most Central Maine Power Co. residential customers will see a $29 total rise in their monthly electric bill starting Jan. 1, while Versant Power customers will see their bill go up by $24 per month. Both are because of an increase in the standard offer supply portion of the electric bill, which is set by a competitive bidding process by regulators. 

CMP ranked last in the large segment of electric companies in the eastern region, while Versant ranked last in the medium segment. J.D. Power noted that overall residential electric utility satisfaction dropped this year as more customers experienced higher monthly bills and felt worse off financially.

“Utilities need to be sensitive to the financial challenges that some customers are experiencing,” John Hazen, managing director of utility intelligence at J.D. Power, said. “Increasing communications regarding assistance programs that may be available, along with energy efficiency programs, can increase overall satisfaction.”

Both Maine electric utilities released statements immediately after J.D. Power announced its study on Wednesday.

CMP has ranked last for several years in a row through customer service and billing issues while weathering opposition to its $1 billion proposed hydropower corridor that was rejected by voters last year. Versant also has sat in last place among medium suppliers the last several years, but has drawn less attention than CMP.

Mainers are set to vote next year on a question that would establish a consumer-owned utility to buy out the infrastructure of CMP and Versant, while CMP’s parent is also pushing a referendum that would force voters to later approve the billions in borrowing required under the buyout proposal.

The company said it has been improving response times and billing accuracy. The ratings were not a surprise given the rising cost of the electricity supply across the country, CMP CEO Joe Purington said.

“Given the historic energy supply cost increases from out-of-state generation companies, we understand that customers are struggling, and those sentiments are reflected in these results,” he said.

A Versant spokesperson said the company “seriously considers” the J.D. Power surveys, but it doesn’t have direct control of all electricity services measured. It said the small sample “does not fully represent the experiences of 160,000-plus customers who see us providing essential services.”