I-Team: Internal e-mails reveal CMP managers feared state investigation
AUGUSTA (WGME) -- Internal e-mails reveal at least one manager at Central Maine Power feared a state investigation, more than a month before the Public Utilities Commission launched one.
That e-mail was one of hundreds turned over by the company as the PUC investigates record-high customer bills.
The I-Team found talk of defects with the usage charts, a thousand missing accounts, hundreds of accounts getting no bill at all, and this: the director of electric supply discussing billing errors with 300 on one night alone.
"This is causing hundreds of errors and complaints, which I fear will be reported to the MPUC soon," she wrote in the message dated January 15.
She went on to write, "The company needs to get a handle on these, and other issues soon or we will find ourselves in the middle of a commission investigation."
"It's a part of the smoking gun, I think, of the problems that exist," said Public Advocate Barry Hobbins.
The e-mail was written more than a month before the PUC launched its investigation into metering, billing and customer communications at CMP.
"I think it reflects, hopefully positively, on the fact that we were aware of it," said John Carroll, a spokesperson for CMP. "We were finding things and we were working to correct as we went along."
The e-mails were part of records requested by state regulators. Also in there is billing and usage data.
The PUC asked CMP to provide all bills where the usage or total charges increased by at least 50 percent in December, January or February. According to the company, that applies to approximately 97,000 customer accounts, which is nearly 145,000 bills.
Of all those submitted, the I-Team found the average usage increase was 396 percent.
"Certainly you cannot include accounts that reflect almost zero usage one year and normal usage the next," said Carroll. "It may look like an enormous number, but it doesn't indicate anything is wrong."
"Three-hundred percent increases on their bills over the last year is unconscionable," said Maine Attorney General, Janet Mills. "(There's) something wrong there."
Mills said while she's concerned, the issue is outside the jurisdiction of her office.
"The law does not allow to me to investigate separately because it's a regulated utility," said Mills. "I'd love to, but, there's so much there, it seems they should be taking aggressive action."
The I-Team took customer concerns to Governor Paul LePage. When asked whether he believes the PUC will get to the bottom of it, he replied, "I'm hoping they do, because the bills are high and they're continuing to rise."
The governor appoints the members of the PUC. LePage said he doesn't think CMP is doing anything wrong intentionally, but questions the rollout of the company's new billing system.
"Believe me, every new system I've ever seen put in, there's some learning curve, ups and downs, some bugs in it," he said. "That's why I say you should never turn an old system off and start a new system without running them parallel. You should run them together to make sure the bugs are out of it."
Carroll said the company's own internal audit found no systemic problems with the meters or billing system.
"Things that maybe created confusion for customers, things that internally created problems for us, but we haven't found anything to say customers were inaccurately metered or billed for accounts," Carroll said.
Right now, the PUC is choosing a consultant to perform a forensic audit of CMP. That's expected to start May 15 and continue through the end of the year.
CMP unveiled a new website on Thursday to answer frequently asked questions: https://www.cmpanswers.com/.
Any consumers with a high CMP bill can send it to the I-Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.