CMP bills sent to I-Team show 111% increase in usage
STATEWIDE (WGME) -- State regulators will decide on Tuesday whether to move forward with an investigation into billing issues at Central Maine Power.
Hundreds of CMP customers say their bills doubled or tripled and they can't figure out why. They sent copies of their bills to the I-Team and we spent the past month analyzing them.
We looked at every bill but focused our investigation on customers who had been in the same home for at least a year so we could compare January 2017 usage to January 2018.
Our analysis found that, on average, daily usage went up by 111%.
We gave our data to the Office of the Public Advocate and the Public Utilities Commission.
Late last week the PUC initiated an investigation into metering, billing and customer communications pertaining to Central Maine Power Company.
Sabrina Gowell is one of many customers who says her bill doesn't make sense.
Her camp in Monmouth is dark and empty during the winter months and this year she doesn't have the furnace running.
"There's nothing going, nothing at all," she said.
She was surprised when her January bill showed usage more than tripled compared to the same time last year.
"It's impossible. There's no way. Like I said, there's nobody here. There's nothing running. There's no way we could use that much electricity," she said.
Fifty-five miles away in Camden, Patti Clark is just as confused.
"I printed this off on the 17th and almost had a stroke," Clark said.
Her usage climbed from an average of 53 kilowatt hours per day last January to 89 this year, resulting in a $500 bill.
"I'm running around shutting things off, basically sitting in the dark," Clark said.
Usage at Gina Pressey's house in Gorham jumped from an average of 26 kilowatt hours per day to 49.
"Are you doing anything different this year?" asked I-Team reporter Marissa Bodnar.
"I'm not. I know it's been a little bit colder. I expected a little bit higher of a bill, but not double," Pressey said.
Through spokesperson Gail Rice, Central Maine Power spent weeks saying that that the most likely cause is either record cold temperatures, a new appliance, or a faulty appliance.
"Is it realistic to think all hundreds of these people though have a faulty appliance?" Bodnar asked.
"It's hard to say what could be going on. You really don't know exactly what might be happening unless you're in that home," Rice said.
In a follow-up interview requested by CMP, the company wanted to clarify the problem could be on their end.
Rice said a new billing software was rolled out in October around the same time as the massive wind storm.
"We are looking at that system very carefully and we have been from the moment it was launched and as long as we continue to have questions about the accuracy of bills, we'll continue to look at that system and see if there's something going on in there that might be causing bills to be inaccurate," Rice said.
[Energy expert weighs in]
We brought some of the bills to Daniel Martinez at the University of Southern Maine.
"I'm so baffled by these large numbers. I've never seen numbers that big," Martinez said.
Martinez is an assistant research professor of Environmental Science and is in charge of the applied energy curriculum.
"You look at all these jumps in usage, that it's multiple people in all different parts of the state, what's your initial reaction?" Bodnar asked.
"Something's wrong," Martinez said.
Martinez says the average Mainer uses 18 kilowatt hours a day but that number may be higher depending on what kind of heat they use.
"If you're running one space heater 24 hours a day that's 36 kwh," he said.
He said appliances like heat pumps and electric water heaters do use a lot of electricity.
Given the bitter cold temperatures, he wouldn't be shocked to see some usage double but only during those chilly days.
"The one issue we have when we're worried about house energy is every house is kinda different. So it's not one size fits all," said Martinez.
[Kennebunk Light and Power did not see similar spikes in usage]
Since we can't examine every house, we decided to check in with another utility company.
Kennebunk Light and Power serves 7,500 customers sandwiched in between CMP territories.
"We didn't notice any 200%, 300%, 400% increases," said Todd Shea, KLP general manager.
Shea said their customers experienced the same cold snap, including some who live in 1980s condominiums and rely solely on electric heat.
"Looking January 2017 to January 2018 your customers did not see these increases?" I-Team reporter Jon Chrisos asked.
"No not at all. I would say about a 20% increase," Shea said.
He said unusually high bills are considered red flags.
"If we were looking at usage numbers, increase of 124%, 117%, 82%, we would be more closely looking into our computer system and meter system to make sure there's not a glitch there somewhere; technology fails you sometimes," Shea sad.
In our search for answers we didn't stop here.
[I-Team takes findings to state officials]
We also brought customer bills and our data to state regulators at the Public Utilities Commission, the Office of the Public Advocate and state lawmakers.
"Jon, to be honest with you it's very impressive that there's been another set of eyes looking at this," said public advocate Barry Hobbins.
Hobbins said after seeing the stack of bills, he's very concerned.
"No one has look at it like you have so far. It is significant that the numbers are so out of whack, there has to be an explanation for it," he said.
Across the street at the PUC, administrative director Harry Lanphear says they're also getting complaints from customers about their January and February bills.
"It certainly raised our attention. When an issue like this comes to our attention and we have that many complaints we're just looking harder at it right now and trying to determine if there's a larger issue," Lanphear said.
CMP's Rice said the company looks forward to answering any questions the PUC might have.
Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) said he has lots of questions.
"It's just crazy," he said.
Berry is the chair of the legislative Committee on Energy and Utilities.
He said he's concerned customers aren't being treated fairly and he'd like to pass a law to require a third party to verify the accuracy of meters.
"We can't rely on CMP to simply report on itself and determine for itself if it's accurately billing people. I don't want to rest until this issue is sorted out; it's completely unacceptable," Berry said.
Customers continue to worry about the next bill and how they're going to pay for the one in front them right now.
"I feel like I'm a slave going back and forth to work just to pay this bill. I'm even thinking of having to take a second job just to pay this," CMP customer Patti Clark said.
CMP said if it turns out they are at fault, they will make it right with customers and adjust bills accordingly.
State regulators at the PUC will meet tomorrow morning to vote on whether to move forward with its investigation into metering and billing issues at CMP.
If you have a high bill, send it to our I-Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.