Just days after regulators blamed high electricity use in cold weather for the high bills thousands of Central Maine Power customers received, Maine’s public advocate late Friday released its own study that still questions the reliability of the utility’s metering and billing system.
The highly anticipated report cited ongoing issues, including incorrect state taxes on bills and errors in usage. It also found some errors that it believes can affect CMP customers who have not complained of high bills but who have exchanged their meter or received delayed bills.
“CMP has denied to this day that there is a problem with the billing system,” Public Advocate Barry Hobbins said. “But there are the same problems in the summertime as in the winter. The system isn’t working properly.”
The billing and metering system, known as SmartCare, was installed in October 2017, the same time a strong wind storm knocked out power to thousands of customers for up to a week.
In its analysis filed Tuesday, the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s staff said that there were no systemic problems with the CMP system. It cited comparisons over two winters with Emera Maine’s bills and found the rise in rates in cold weather comparable among customers of both utilities. It also cited conclusions from an independent audit filed in December 2018 by Liberty Consulting Group of Pennsylvania that found no systemic problems.
CMP spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said the company will take time to thoroughly review the public advocate’s audit results and respond by Oct. 16, as required by the commission.
She said the Liberty audit and commission staff analysis found no systemic issues with SmartCare after customer data for every account, meter and four million bills were analyzed.
“Should the [public advocate] audit reveal an undiscovered malfunction with the SmartCare system, CMP will, of course, correct it,” she said.
Hobbins said that cold weather is too simple an explanation and does not take into account the ongoing billing issues. The public advocate’s office hired Portland consultant BerryDunn to analyze 1,370 customer accounts and more than 5,400 invoices with high bills from May 1, 2018, until Aug. 18, 2019.
“Given the parameters of our analysis, we cannot conclusively determine the extent or pervasiveness of these problems; however we believe the nature and extent of the issues we identified call into question the overall integrity of the system and its ability to provide accurate, timely and reliable invoices to CMP customers,” wrote Julie Keim, principal at BerryDunn.
The public advocate’s report said that until measures are taken to identify the root cause of the problems and to create a system to resolve them, customers will continue to complain.
Deep analysis shows problems
The public advocate’s filing with the commission is in three parts: an analysis of customer…