More than 50 Maine lawmakers have signed a letter asking the Public Utilities Commission not to allow Central Maine Power to pass on pandemic-related costs entirely to ratepayers.

The June 17 letter, written by state Rep. Seth Berry, a Bowdoinham Democrat, says that CMP is trying to charge ratepayers to lower costs for its shareholders in a proposal to declare expenses incurred during the coronavirus pandemic a “regulatory asset.” The utility says it’s just trying to accurately track its costs for recovery later.

“Many Mainers have rushed to the front lines and have taken great risks with little reward, other than knowing they helped others,” Berry wrote. “So far, to achieve our relatively low rate of infection and death, almost all have made at least some sacrifice for the greater good. … Unfortunately, Avangrid does not think its multinational investors should share in the burden of this pandemic. We consider this perspective to be unconscionable, and hope you do also.”

Declaring an expense a “regulatory asset” is a way of deferring the cost to a utility’s balance sheet, where it can be tracked for recovery later. Just how the money’s recovered – whether from customers, shareholders or elsewhere – is subject to final approval by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, CMP Executive Chairman David Flanagan said Friday.

CMP is a subsidiary of Avangrid, based in Connecticut and owned in turn by Iberdrola, a multinational energy company based in Spain. In his letter, Berry accused CMP of favoring its far-flung investors over customers in Maine.

“Whether from Maine or Spain, Qatar or Canada, the investors whose companies hold the privilege of an anticompetitive monopoly in Maine must share in the sacrifices we are all making at this time,” he wrote.

Flanagan, the executive chairman, strongly disputed that assertion. He noted that CMP had already taken steps to help customers under financial pressure because of the pandemic, including suspending disconnections and late payment charges.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said in a letter to lawmakers Friday. “Please know CMP and Avangrid are not seeking immunity from the financial sacrifices demanded by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Flanagan noted that the PUC has ultimate decision-making power over how the utility recovers costs, and said CMP wasn’t seeking to recover the money immediately. He did not say how CMP may seek to recover the costs in the future, however.

“We are merely seeking authorization to track these costs for possible recovery at a later date, after the economic recovery from the pandemic has firmly taken hold and society is in a stronger financial position,” he wrote.

Starting in July, CMP customers will see an average increase of $2.50 on their bills, a rate hike that will cover the costs of repairs from storms in October and November 2019. The PUC authorized the rate change, which will be spread over three years to lessen the impact on customers.

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