Our Pledge to You
Most Mainers likely have heard the recent reports about electricity bills, higher energy use, smart meters and Central Maine Power’s new customer care system. As we move forward to complete a comprehensive audit of the system, we’ve learned a lot.
First and foremost, we can report that the core functions of the system are working properly. Central Maine Power has not found any link between increased usage on customers’ bills and the new customer care system.
To date, we have found 31 separate issues which we have reported to the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC). What types of issues have we found? Some customers didn’t receive their bills as expected because of delays in getting bills produced. Some customers could not see their past usage information. Other examples involved errors in processing security deposit interest rates and refunds. Most of these issues affected only a small number of customers and we have been making corrections where necessary. Although each of these examples affected small groups of customers, the collective errors, plus the generally high seasonal bills, contributed to confusion and mistrust among our customers.
Taken together, higher electricity use and increased supply prices caught many by surprise. We understand the impact these issues have on our customers and want to help. We already offer free, easy-to-use tools that help customers understand usage, including Energy Manager, an online tool that displays hourly electricity use. Usage Alerts let customers know when they reach consumption thresholds, just like the notices from cell phone services about data usage. We also offer an online Energy Calculator that customers can use to calculate the cost of running appliances.
Central Maine Power understands customers’ concerns regarding bills that are higher than expected and the inconvenience associated with minor errors that require correction on our end. We want the new system to satisfy every customer. We want the public to have faith in the system. To ensure this, we will continue to work with MPUC and its auditors and respond to every customer. Should any issues be found that led to an overbilling or overpayment by a customer, we will fix them and make sure customers are credited. That is our pledge to every customer we serve.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
+ My Bill
Q: How does CMP bill for electric service?
The monthly bill you get from CMP is for two services: Electricity Delivery and Electricity Supply. Your delivery service comes from CMP. Your supply comes from the Standard Offer provider or, if you have chosen your own supply company, from another Competitive Electricity Provider. CMP bills you on your supplier’s behalf, strictly as a pass-through. CMP has neither affiliation with nor does it get any revenue from the Standard Offer or any other Competitive Electricity Provider.
Q: How are CMP’s prices set?
CMP’s delivery prices are regulated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC). Transmission costs are included in the total delivery price and are set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. We are always looking for new ways to work more efficiently and ensure our customers get a good value for their energy dollar.
Q: Have CMP’s prices gone up to pay for damage from the October 2017 storm?
No. The MPUC sets our prices, and CMP cannot change the prices it charges without first going to the Commission. When CMP seeks a price change, the MPUC will conduct a thorough and transparent public review and will consider input from a broad range of stakeholders representing consumers, businesses, environmental groups, and other interests. CMP price changes typically happen on July 1.
Q: How is the Standard Offer set?
Every fall, the MPUC accepts bids from Competitive Electricity Providers (CEPs) to supply Standard Offer service for CMP customers who have not designated their own supplier. The Commission evaluates the bid, chooses a supplier or suppliers, and the new price is put in place for the following year.
Q: Are electricity supply prices regulated?
No. Electricity supply prices are not regulated and are subject to change depending on market conditions. For example, the recent 18 percent increase in the Standard Offer price for residential and small business customers in CMP’s service area, which took effect January 1, 2018, was driven by the increase in capacity market clearing prices in New England. The capacity cost increases in the New England regional wholesale market were set in an auction conducted by ISO-NE. The higher prices result from the need for new generating plants to replace plants that were retiring.
Q: Have electricity supply prices changed recently?
Yes. On January 1, 2018, two major electricity suppliers, NextEra Energy Power Marketing, LLC and Constellation Energy Commodities Group Maine, LLC, raised the price of Standard Offer supply by 18 percent for residential and small business accounts; other competitive suppliers boosted rates by as much as 50 percent or more.
Q: If I want to shop around for supply, where can I get information about the options and costs?
A list of CEPs can be found on the MPUC’s web site at http://www.state.me.us/mpuc/electricity/list_of_suppliers.shtml
The best way to get the latest information about supply options and costs is to contact the CEP directly. It’s important to keep in mind that prices can change, and when entering into a contract, you should read the terms and conditions carefully before signing on. The Maine Public Advocate keeps a list of some of the more popular CEPs, including pricing information, on its web site at http://www.maine.gov/meopa/utilities/electric/supply.html. Prices can change without notice, so customers are strongly urged to go to the company’s website or call them to confirm pricing before signing up.
Q: Does CMP offer electricity supply? Are any suppliers affiliated with CMP?
No, CMP is no longer in the electricity supply business as required by Maine law and we are not affiliated with any CEP. CMP is your electricity delivery company and we’re happy to answer any questions about your account or electricity use. Just give us a call at 1.800.750.4000.
Q: What has changed in my new bill?
+ My Electricity Usage
Q: Why are some customers using so much more electricity but others are not?
Each customer is different, so answers can only be found through analysis of hourly electricity use at each individual property. We have worked with hundreds of customers to identify some of the unexpected or overlooked factors that explain their high bills.
Here are some factors that can affect electricity usage:
- Electric resistance heat, while easy to use and relatively maintenance free, is a high user of electricity. Using a single baseboard can drive up electricity consumption, even if the thermostat is set on a low temperature. Usage goes up as outside temperature goes down and your equipment is trying to maintain a certain temperature.
- Space heaters and heat tape, often used to prevent pipes from freezing, can be users of electricity. Daily use of a space heater, even if for only part of the day, can cause electric bills to rise. Changes in living arrangements can also drive up usage.
- Customers’ efforts to heat their homes and water more efficiently have also affected electricity use. Thousands of Mainers have purchased heat pump systems in recent years, many with the help of rebates. While electric heat pumps help customers save on oil or propane bills, they lose efficiency in colder temperatures. During this year’s extremely harsh winter, when cold weather set records in December and January, increased electric heat pump use resulted in much higher electricity consumption.
- A heat pump thermostat set at “Emergency Heat” drives up usage. This may be abbreviated on the thermostat to “E HEAT” or “EMER HEAT.” During the winter, a heat pump system set to “Emergency Heat” can double electric usage.
- During very cold weather, some homeowners who have pipes that are prone to freezing might leave faucets open just enough to allow water to flow at a slow drip. This not only wastes a precious resource, it can cause the well pump to run overtime and drive up electricity usage.
- Water heating can account for a considerable portion of some customers’ energy bills. A setting of 120 degrees is best for maximum comfort and energy efficiency.
- A malfunctioning water heater can also drive up your electric bill. Here are a couple of things to look for:
- A water heater’s Temperature and Pressure Release (TPR) valve can begin to fail with age. This safety valve is on or near the top of the water heater and is designed to open if the tank overheats. It’s a good idea to check the TPR valve regularly and make sure it is in good working order.
- Hot water can also leak from a pipe failure under the slab. This can be hard to find because outside soil absorbs the moisture until the leakage becomes heavy enough to saturate the area and come up through the slab.
- A failing heating element inside your water heater can also drive up usage.
- Appliance failures can also drive up electricity usage. If your refrigerator is running more than usual, you might be paying more on your electric bill than you need to. The average life expectancy for today’s refrigerator is 13 years. So if your fridge is older than that, it may be costing you.
- Our talks with customers have revealed a number of other factors that can drive up electricity use, including:
- Use of electric ovens to keep a home or apartment warm, particularly during the colder months when oil and propane companies were struggling to keep up with deliveries
- Unusual uses of electricity to keep barn water, chicken eggs, and animal pens safe
- A visitor charging a recreational vehicle
Q: Is this just happening in Maine or is it happening in other states as well?
National media coverage shows that residents in at least 22 states – from Texas to Florida and Michigan to Massachusetts – also are questioning the bills they received for power used in December and January.
Q: What is CMP doing for customers who have questions, concerns, or disputes about their bill?
We have been thoroughly examining the customer care system since it was launched last fall and have not found any systemic issues with our smart meters, metering, or billing that would cause a relatively small number out of more than 620,000 customers to receive high bills. Our meter staff has already conducted a high volume of meter tests this year and no issues have been detected with meter performance.
Since the system went live October 30, we have identified some isolated billing issues that have impacted limited numbers of customers. These had nothing to do with their usage and everything to do with being a new system.
We are completing an internal system review, an independent review through a metering specialist, and now the MPUC will complete an independent audit – so if there is a problem, we should find it. CMP, as always, is eager to satisfy our customers and to help them understand and manage their bills. We are committed to delivering accurate bills to customers.
We have added a dedicated team of experts who are calling customers back when they file a complaint with the MPUC. These team members listen to customer concerns, help them understand the many variables that impact their bills, and address problems that exist.
If we discover any system-related problem that may have generated an incorrect bill for a customer, we will fix the problem and adjust accounts of affected customers as appropriate, regardless of whether they have contacted us.
As always, for customers who are struggling to pay their electric bills, we offer payment arrangements and educate customers on various assistance programs where they can get financial support.
Q: What can customers do to better manage their energy use?
CMP offers a number of services that customers can use to monitor and manage their energy use.
Energy Manager: Energy Manager is our free and secure online tool that works with your smart meter so you can track your energy usage online, hour-by-hour, day-by-day. With Energy Manager, you can create a checklist of ways to save and get helpful tips for managing your electricity use.
Learn more about Energy Manager at http://cmpco.com/YourAccount/EM_about.html
Usage Alerts: Customers can receive alerts and updates about your electricity usage and estimated cost - all made possible by their smart meter. You can choose to receive any of the following alerts:
- Usage Update: Receive weekly updates with your usage, estimated cost, and daily averages for the current billing period
- Usage Amount Exceeded: Set a monthly electricity usage or dollar amount, and we'll notify you if/when you exceed that amount
- Usage Change: We'll notify you of big changes to your daily usage. Specifically, if your daily usage is 50% higher or 75% lower than your past 30-day average usage for three days in a row
Learn more about Usage Alerts at https://www.cmpco.com/youraccount/aboutalerts.html
+ My Smart Meter
Q: What are the benefits of smart meters?
Smart meters provide more information to both customers and CMP. Customers can access up-to-date usage information to track, manage, and control their own energy use. CMP obtains electronic readings every month, eliminating the occasional need for estimated reads for billing. Customers moving to a new location or starting or stopping their electric service see faster turnaround in making changes to their account.
The environment benefits, too! We're reducing the number of vehicles on the road by 2 million miles per year, reducing fossil fuels and eliminating 1,400 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Smart meters allow us to pinpoint outages and respond quickly, which means better service to you.
Q: How can smart meters help me manage my electricity use?
Recent research clearly demonstrates that information about energy usage, conservation, and energy efficiency helps consumers reduce their electricity use. The information available through smart meter technology could encourage some consumers to manage their energy use differently. In addition, smart meter technology reduces operational costs for CMP and the company can provide better customer service at lower costs for all consumers.
Q: How do I access information regarding my electrical usage online?
Powered by your smart meter, our online Energy Manager tool lets you see how you use power hour by hour, day by day. You can understand when you use electricity, track your usage, and compare your energy use to similar households.
Q: How is my personal data protected?
CMP protects private data about its customers’ accounts. The use of data encryption keeps this data safe during transmission. CMP and other utilities already take careful measures to prevent unauthorized access to computers that control critical transmission and generation systems. Cyber security is not new to us and we routinely protect highly sensitive data from unauthorized access.
Q: Is it easy for someone to tamper with my meter and energy use?
Smart meters offer better security by providing more frequent information about usage and possible meter tampering.
Q: Are smart meters susceptible to damage from severe weather?
Any meter or piece of outdoor equipment is susceptible to damage from extreme weather conditions. To keep the system working properly, we start by selecting high quality equipment, including meters, and we perform regular inspection and maintenance. Because we receive daily communications from the smart meters, we are able to detect issues promptly.
Q: How do you know that the meters are accurate?
CMP’s testing program for its smart meters exceeds MPUC requirements. Thousands are tested yearly using equipment calibrated by an independent company. CMP tests meters before they are put into service, and it tests a portion of in-service meters every year. Thousands more were tested in 2018 in response to customer complaints. All of them test within strict parameters.
Q: I had a power outage that lasted several hours/days. When I checked Energy Manager and/or downloaded my data, it showed usage during that time. Why would a smart meter show usage during an outage?
Energy Manager estimates the usage upon receiving more data. When power and communications are restored, the meter reading is “trued up” and Energy Manager typically estimates the usage for the hours the meter was not communicating.
+ CMP’S NEW BILLING SYSTEM
Q: Why did CMP replace its customer care system?
CMP had a 27-year-old, mainframe-based system that lacked the flexibility to meet the needs of a 21st Century energy industry and its customers. Our new system is designed to enhance customer service, offer the flexibility needed to support innovative new rate design, and meet new regulatory requirements. The system went live in late October of 2017.
Q: Is this why my account number changed and bill look different?
Yes. Change can sometimes be difficult, so we have made every effort to make this transition as smooth as possible. The account number change has been noted in the message section on the front page of customers’ bills. The new bill design was featured in our Customer Guide bill inserts in August and November of 2017; it is also posted on our web site at https://www.cmpco.com/YourAccount/NewBillDesign.html. Many of the changes are based on feedback we have received from customers.
Q: How well has the system performed so far?
Since its launch last fall, our new customer care system has performed its core functions well, but as expected when replacing a nearly 30-year-old structure with the latest technology, the process was not perfect. For most customers, the transition has been seamless, but some issues commonly associated with a major system conversion affected customers. While we are never happy with these types of issues, we worked swiftly to correct each one and adjust customers’ bills as appropriate.
Q: What kinds of transition issues have you experienced?
To date, we have found 35 separate issues which we have reported to the MPUC. Some customers didn’t receive their bills as expected because of delays in mailing. Some customers could not see past usage information. Other examples involved errors in processing security deposit interest rates and refunds. We have made corrections where necessary. Although each of these examples affected small groups of customers, the collective errors, plus the generally high seasonal bills, contributed to confusion and mistrust among our customers.
Q: How did CMP communicate about these issues?
CMP is obligated to report any billing error that affects more than 10 customers to the MPUC’s Consumer Assistance and Safety Division (CASD). These errors were reported as they happened over the course of the last few months. On April 9, we filed a summary of issues experienced to date in response to the MPUC’s summary investigation. That filing is among many that are posted on the Commission’s website.
Q: What do you say about reports in the news and on social media that the company has not been transparent about the customer care system problems?
As a regulated company, CMP is fully accountable to the MPUC; consequently, our operations are open and transparent. We fix any errors and report them to the CASD. We also referenced some items we’ve found publicly on several occasions, including a media briefing on April 6; during work sessions with the Maine Legislature’s Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee in April; and in an Opinion piece that was published in the Portland Press Herald on April 17.
Q: A lot of customers have experienced abnormally high bills over the winter; some bills doubled and tripled. Are those the fault of the new system?
After considerable investigation of our system and conversations with hundreds of customers who have received higher than expected bills, we believe these are separate, unrelated issues. To date, CMP has not found any link between increased usage on customers’ bills and the new customer care system. None of the system issues we have identified thus far has been found to artificially increase usage or bills. We continue to investigate, and we are cooperating fully with the Commission in its summary investigation and audit.
Q: If CMP, the Commission, or its auditor finds an error that did cause customers’ bills to go up, what will happen?
Should any issues be found that led to an overbilling or overpayment by a customer, we will fix them and make sure customers are paid back.
Q: What do you say to customers who remain frustrated with high bills and who have lost trust in CMP?
Central Maine Power understands customers’ concerns regarding bills that are higher than expected and the inconvenience associated with minor errors that require correction on our end. We want the new customer care system to satisfy every customer and we want the public to have faith in it. To ensure this, we will continue to work with the MPUC and its auditors and respond to every customer who has concerns. The complexity of the system and volume of data requiring analysis mean that it could be several more months before the investigation is complete, however we are committed to finding answers and restoring customer trust.
Real Life Examples
Mark from Southport
Mark called regarding high use. He has recently put in a well for the first time to have water to his home. Pipes are exposed in the basement and Mark was concerned the pipes could freeze during the severe cold, so...