Op-ed by Rep. Seth Berry, House chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. Rep. Berry represents House District 55: Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island and most of Richmond. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House majority leader.
When it comes to our electricity bills, Mainers deserve to be treated with fairness and honesty. It’s a matter of basic trust. And when that trust was broken several months ago, the Legislature fought back on your behalf.
I’m Representative Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, and I’m the co-chair of the Energy Committee, which oversees all the utilities in our state.
Shortly after the big windstorm last October, Central Maine Power customers began to complain about unusually large bills. Many people’s bills doubled or tripled – even the bills of some people who were without power for over a week because of the storm.
As my colleagues and I began to investigate, hold hearings and ask questions, it became clear that something had gone very wrong. State regulators backed up our conclusion when they opened a formal investigation, and now there is a class action lawsuit alleging that nearly 300,000 homes and businesses may have been overcharged.
We also discovered something else strange and disturbing – the law on the books said that you, the electricity customer, had to pay for regulators to investigate the electric companies, even if that investigation found the company at fault.
To understand how unfair that is, imagine someone robs your house, and then you get a bill in the mail from the police after they catch the suspect.
That’s why my committee got to work on changing the law. Democrats worked hard to convince our Republican colleagues that this was the right thing to do.
And I’m proud to say that – after a long negotiation – we were successful. The new law – called “the Riley Amendment” after Representative Tina Riley of Jay – allows Maine’s Public Utilities Commission to start charging power company shareholders – and not customers – for investigations when the company is at fault.
It also allows the PUC to establish independent audits, so that we can keep a close eye on the power companies’ meters and billing systems to make sure you’re not being overcharged.
When it comes to consumer protection, there’s still a long way to go. But I’m proud of the steps we took, and I’m looking forward to doing more.
Maine families and small businesses watch every penny, whether we’re trying to cool down our homes in the summer or keep the furnace going in the winter. Those efforts to save money should be respected – not wiped away by a computer glitch.
As we look ahead to a new legislature and a new governor next year, we need to make sure our incoming leaders are people who will stand up for you when a large corporation treats you unfairly. Democrats will be there fighting to make sure all utilities put their customers first.