Maine Public Utilities Commission Chairman Phil Bartlett, third from left, speaks at the beginning of the commission’s public hearing in Farmington on Thursday evening at the University of Maine at Farmington. From left are commission members Randall Davis, Bruce Williamson, Chuck Cohen, Bartlett, Katie Gray and Brian George.

FARMINGTON — Members of the Maine Public Utilities Commission sat through a second night of public testimony Thursday, listening to different voices but the same story from at least 15 people sharing their frustrating experiences with Central Maine Power.

Although the hearing was to take public comment on CMP’s request for a residential rate increase, customers of the utility took the opportunity to vent about their electric bills they say are not based on actual usage.

“I have taken at least 53 calls for help from residents in my district,” state Rep. Frances Head, R-Bethel, said. “They ask for my help and I can’t help them. I can only tell them to call CMP.

“A local dairy farmer saw his bills triple. He may have to go out of business,” she said.

Customers recounted the responses they received from CMP about why their bills were unusually high: refrigerators were old, heat pumps were to blame.

One woman said she called one day and was told her account would be corrected automatically in the system. A day later she heard from a different service representative that the system couldn’t do that, but that an official would have to manually make the adjustment. In the meantime power would be disconnected if the charge wasn’t paid, correct or not, she said.

Elwin Churchill of Farmington said, “I used money from a home improvement loan to pay off my $1,117.21 utility balance. I installed 18 solar panels at that time and my electricity bill was still hundreds of dollars.”

Churchill said he had an official from the PUC visit his home, and he hired an electrician to go through his wiring. He said a representative from the solar company could find nothing wrong with the installation.

Churchill said he finally had a CMP representative come and remove his smart meter. After that, his bills dropped to about $200, but he never got any answer on what the problem was.

And to make matters worse, “CMP swears to me that they never even swapped out that meter,” Churchill told the commission. “But I saw it.”

Selectman Elizabeth Caruso of Caratunk took CMP to task for its lack of line service.

“On Oct. 27, 2018, a large tree fell across a line on Route 201,” she said. “There was no power in our area until Oct. 30. It was a terrible safety hazard, people had to drive under that hanging power line. Logging trucks had to veer into the other lane of the road to avoid it.

“And then on Nov. 3, a tree fell on a line on Pleasant Pond Road,” she said. “The power line would hit drivers’ windshields as they drove under it. That road is the only way in or out for those residents. I called CMP the following Monday about it and was told they didn’t have enough crews to get to the location. But there was no major weather event at the time. CMP knew about these issues but either they did not have the resources or the will to resolve them for multiple days,” she said

Jay Els, Community Outreach Director for AARP, spoke to the struggles of Maine’s seniors keeping up with their expenses.

“Thirty percent of elderly couples can barely cover the necessities to survive,” he said. “That number goes up to 50% for single people. CMP has failed to serve Mainers, and it is their shareholders who should pay for those failures, not their paying customers.”

Echoing the statements from the public hearing held earlier this week in Portland, speakers said that CMP has not earned the right to increase its rates by 10.65 percent to raise an estimated $46.5 million.

But some had even more startling things to say, especially concerning CMP’s proposal to build a $1 billion transmission line to bring power from Hydro Quebec through Western Maine and eventually to Massachusetts. The 145-mile line from Beattie Township on the Canadian border to a power station in Lewiston is part of the New England Clean Energy Connect project..

Geraldine Bryant spoke on behalf of an elderly relative, Lyle Laplante of Livermore Falls.

“CMP needs to clean their slate before they are granted any rate increase,” she said. “Their transmission line expansion hasn’t been approved, but they are already buying real estate to build the corridor. The Laplantes have been badgered to sell their home to the point they feel intimidated. The offers are low and CMP keeps coming back and saying he might as well sell because the corridor is going to happen anyway. And many of his neighbors on River Road have already sold. The houses are empty.”

And while Bryant has not had to deal with the metering and billing headaches that others spoke of, she has had problems with CMP service as well. She called CMP to have power shut off for a rental unit she owns, only to have them shut it off to her home instead.

“These are simple things they can’t do,” she said. “It’s ludicrous that they could be allowed to charge more.”

In addition to the 50 ratepayers at the public hearing, Maine’s Public Advocate Barry Hobbins was also on hand.

“This should not be happening,” he said. “I am considering filing a motion to stay CMP’s rate increase request proceeding. These issues with meter and billing failures, with the lack of customer service accountability … should be resolved for everyone before this goes any further.”


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