Maine PUC Appeals Change to Solar Energy Incentives: Rejected in State Court

There had been a challenge to a new controversial solar energy rule, which many advocates were thankful to see the Main Supreme Court dismiss as of this past Thursday.


Considering ‘net metering’, in effect since the 1990’s, there is much to see regarding what credits can be gained from all home-based energy systems, including small energy generators and panel systems (even though they were not very common at that time). 

The state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has been working toward the permission for CMP (Central Maine Power) to add energy meter reading to check the amount of energy generated on those homes with solar systems. Now, most recently there has been a battle for what may happen as deep as the state government to update solar energy policies.  

Unfortunately, Maine Governor Paul LePage has vetoed state energy bills for three years now for everything from increased solar energy generation to preservation of energy net metering for cost savings. The latest of these would have stopped the requirement of solar energy homes to install a second meter to monitor their own energy generation. 

Luckily, as of last month an audit to all of these procedures throughout the state’s utility practices and energy measurements had begun. Everything from the energy billing system to customer services is now being evaluated. This is being done by Liberty Consulting, who will report first to the PUC in October as they complete their own investigation as well. 

Unfortunately, a lot of this came to light as CMP customers (including those with solar energy and renewable energy sources) began to complain that customer service was not handling their questions and concerns regarding energy billing in a proper manner or even at all. When customer service calls were on hold sometimes for hours or not answered at all, there became concerns that both service and billing issues and concerns were being ignored. Therefore, the PUC is thankful that the option of overall resolution comes to light with these governor vetoes and audits now in progress, likely with state leaders denying the potential for solar energy to assist in consumer energy expenses.  

Even worse, CMP customers have stated that they hired their own electrical professionals to check appliances in their homes when questioning decreased productivity or supposed increased energy usage in their homes. They paid for energy checks to find nothing wrong and apparently, “CMP customer service personnel then told them the cold snap in late December and early January was the culprit, even though many customers said they had not changed their appliance usage.” 

There have apparently been several accusations made by CMP customer service to their callers, including anything from energy usage from space heaters and lying about it. Customers reported that CMP customer service basically told them that the only thing they know is how much energy is being used in the home, not how it is being generated. That is how the energy bill is being calculated. CMP energy bills were never changed or evaluated for correctness, and the customers were told that the online systems and smart meters were not yet available in their areas. 

Additionally, it was reported by Gina Hamilton of The Boothbay Register that no CMP investigator would speak directly on any customer’s issue regarding billing, customer service or energy usage. General comments would be made about diagnosis of energy usage and billing issues, but the long list of possible issues or results exists and there was no real answer or solution at the time. From what is being stated by CMP, it sounds like there are a long list of “maybes” that are just being told to customers as the answer of “because you have all these possible malfunctions in your home, your bill is likely increasing,” rather than CMP taking responsibility for failure to meter THEIR energy production properly. It has been placed on the shoulders of the customers to determine that nothing has malfunctioned, that all appliances are working properly and that they must pay for all the expenses required to determine that CMP has failed to service their homes properly. This definitely does not make sense, especially if they have already done their own work to install a solar panel system intended to provide incredible savings on energy generation. 

Unfortunately, without knowledge of the appliances in customer homes CMP reps are told to present “possible” issues to customers. Though CMP understands that this is a frustration for customers, with no complete answers to billing problems, it needs to be a parallel analysis between CMP and PUC as to the resolution of these customer issues via the current audit. While Gail Rice, spokesman for CMP, states that they are cooperating with all investigations and improving employee training, there are still large number of customer complaints being reported to PUC. 

Interestingly enough, this has been compared to the ability for our local grocery stores to come to our homes, evaluate the gardens where we grow our own produce, and then bill us for the vegetables, herbs and fruit we grow for our own meals. Basically, this would be like paying other government or retail sources for products we generate for our own use, which would now include the energy we are able to produce on our own with the panels attached to our own homes.



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