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I-Team: PUC changes disconnect rules during CMP investigation

The Maine Public Utilities Commission ruled that CMP customers disputing their high bills will have to pay the undisputed portion to avoid disconnection while the company is under investigation.

HALLOWELL (WGME) -- The Maine Public Utilities Commission ruled that CMP customers disputing their high bills will have to pay the undisputed portion to avoid disconnection while the company is under investigation.

CMP isn't allowed to disconnect anyone during the winter period, which ends on April 15, but the public advocate was concerned about what happens after that. He asked the commission to prevent CMP from disconnecting any customers throughout the entire investigation, which CMP objected to.

Many said the commission found middle ground on Wednesday.

"We're too old for this," said Judy Hopkins, a CMP customer in Pownal.

She was cracking jokes on Wednesday, but said the January bill she and her husband got from CMP was no laughing matter.

"Just about had a heart attack," Hopkins said.

It showed their usage had more than doubled from the same month last year. They said nothing in their home changed, so they couldn't explain the increase.

Last Friday, a disconnect notice came in the mail, telling them to pay $177 or be cut off on April 11. The couple said the bill wasn't paid, because they never got one.

"I'm surprised I didn't have a stroke," said Hopkins. "I was so mad."

That anger turned to some relief as the PUC decided to temporarily modify rules on disconnections while it investigates record-high CMP bills.

Chairman Mark Vannoy said it will protect residential customers who saw a 25 percent or more increase in their delivery charges from the same time last year.

"If you had service last year, same month. That's a reasonable generic undisputed portion of the bill," he said.

A spokesperson for Central Maine Power released a statement reading in part, "The commission's decision balances the need for our customers to pay for services they receive while protecting them from the possibility they have been improperly billed."

Public Advocate Barry Hobbins called it a reasonable compromise.

"This, I think, gives people an assurance that going forward, you're fine," he said. "Going backward, you're fine."

"It's fairer than I thought," said Hopkins.

Vannoy said CMP will send a notice outlining the temporary disconnection rules to customers with their bills.

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