Audit: CMP meters are accurate, billing problems ‘minimal’
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — An independent audit faults Central Maine Power leadership for errors introduced by a new billing system but found those errors to be “minimal” and concluded that the meters are accurate, the Maine Public Utilities Commission reported Thursday.
The report by the Liberty Group suggested that cold temperatures and a spike in electricity rates were to blame for widespread complaints of overbilling.
The audit findings come a year after the first complaints about CMP bills during the rollout of a “Smartcare” billing system. Complaints peaked later when a cold snap and a scheduled rate increase combined for a double whammy for customers.
All told, about 97,000 customers’ bills increased by 50 percent or more last winter.
Doug Herling, the utility’s president and CEO, said the independent audit vindicates the accuracy of smart meters and should reassure customers.
He accepted the conclusion that inadequate staffing and training contributed to problems with the rollout of the SmartCare system, and said “CMP remains firmly committed to addressing every one of the conclusions in the Liberty report.”
“The events of the past year have taught all of us a clear lesson and we will continue to work hard to win back customer trust. This starts with taking responsibility when we fall short and finding the best way to correct problems when they arise,” he said.
A lawsuit filed last summer alleges that nearly 300,000 CMP customers were overbilled last year, possibly by tens of millions of dollars.
Attorney Sumner Lipman pointed out that the report downplayed the problems while noting that there was a shortage of trained personnel and “unnecessarily large numbers of errors requiring lengthy manual correction before bill issuance.” It also noted “overly long delays in resolving billing problems.”
“I think that they’ve minimized the economic impact and the number of people involved, but then later on they recognize the magnitude of the errors,” he said. “You can’t have it both ways.”
Suggesting the problems are unresolved, Lipman said he still hears from about five to 10 CMP customers each week who say they’ve received wrongful cutoff notices.
Regulators said the findings and conclusions from the Liberty Group will be subject to further review. The PUC will discuss he next steps at a meeting Jan 8.