Boothbay resident receives CMP response to her billing questions

But Sherri Brown says CMP doesn’t know reason for spike in her bill
Posted:  Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 2:00pm

A Boothbay woman got a response from Central Maine Power Co. she’s been waiting nearly two months for. Sherri Brown is one of hundreds of CMP customers  frustrated with an apparent spike in their electric bills. Brown has seen her bill rise about $100 to $200 in her January, February and March statements.

She contacted CMP in hopes of asking why her January bill increased by nearly $100. She also had questions about CMP’s new billing system after seeing new terms on her monthly statement. But a phone call and email went unanswered for weeks resulting in Brown sending a letter to Maine’s Public Utilities Commission complaining about CMP’s billing practices.

On March 5, Brown received a letter from the MPUC asking her to give CMP a “few more days.” On March 8, Brown was interviewed by the Boothbay Register about her problems with CMP after learning she was a member of a newly formed Facebook group called CMP Ratepayers Unite.

Later in the day, after the Boothbay Register contacted CMP about customer concerns, a company representative called Brown and answered questions regarding her bill.

One of Brown’s questions dealt with new wording on billing statements. The new terms such as LPC, SOP, and consumption billing resulted from a new billing system introduced in January.  SOP is Standard Offer Provider.  Customers who don’t choose a provider receive electricity from a standard provider arranged annually from MPUC through a competitive bid, according to CMP. Consumption billing is the total monthly bill amount for supply and delivery. LPC is for late payment charge.

According to Brown, the representative tried explaining why her electric bill increased. Brown reported the representative attributed higher electric bills to customers using older appliances and a record cold snap in December.

Brown was satisfied with CMP giving her an explanation about the billing increase and new statement.

“I was satisfied she answered my questions, but she didn’t really answer why my bill went up,” Brown said. “I don’t use electric heat so it has to be something else. I don’t think they really know why people’s bills are going up.” 

Brown is one of 1,494 CMP Ratepayers Unite group members on Facebook. Kristy Lee Pottle of Belfast, who also experienced a sharp rise in her electric bill, began the group three weeks ago after reading other complaints on social media about electric bills. Members post a running conversation on the page about their unexpected electric bill increases. The group also encourages ratepayers to file formal complaints with the MPUC.

For Brown, high electrical bills aren’t uncommon. She has lived at her Beath Road home for 30 years and runs a small daycare center. Her monthly electric bill was consistently around $200. Prior to October’s windstorm, Brown knew why her bill was high. She has a pool pump and runs two air conditioners and a hot tub.

But she began noticing small changes to her bill in November. The changes stopped in December, but resumed in the New Year. In January, Brown began paying even closer attention to her CMP bill after it “spiked” to $289.06. Brown emailed and later called CMP requesting information on why her bill was higher. But Brown didn’t receive an immediate response.

“Customer service at CMP is a joke because everybody was trying to get through, but you can’t,” she said.

CMP representatives reported their prices have not changed since July 2017. But a company official said other factors have influenced customers’ bills. CMP’s corporate communication representative Gail Rice responded in an email that prices for competitive electricity suppliers have increased in some cases, by more than 40 percent. Rice also blamed a mid-winter cold snap for increasing customer bills. She cited as a source for her information.

“Weather experts will verify that Maine experienced some very cold temperatures and thus more heating degree days, in December and January,” she wrote.

Recent customer requests have resulted in CMP performing more frequent Smart Meter testing. CMP began using Smart Meters in 2012. CMP spot tests between 9,000 and 16,000 Smart Meters per year, according to Rice.

“We have tested many others in the past few months. So far, all meters have tested within very strict standards for accuracy,” Rice wrote.

Based on customer complaints, the MPUC launched a formal investigation Feb. 22 over the utility’s metering and billing resulting from the new billing system.