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Legislature Overrides Veto of Bill Holding Utility Shareholders - Not Customers - Responsible for Investigation Costs

Source: 
Targeted News Service (Press Releases)

AUGUSTA, Maine, July 9 -- The Maine House Democrats issued the following news release:

The Maine Legislature overrode the governor's veto of a bill Monday that allows Maine's Public Utilities Commission to hold a utility's shareholders responsible for the costs of investigating problems. The measure, known as "the Riley Amendment," cleared the House 143-0 and the Senate 28-6 and is now law.

"With our unanimous vote in the House and the strong vote in the Senate, we are sending a bipartisan message that we are holding CMP accountable to the Maine people," said Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, a co-sponsor of the bill and House chair of the Legislature's Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. "Electricity customers around the state have told us loud and clear that they want the same rights from their government as the for-profit monopolies that sell us power."

Under the previous law, if Maine's Public Utilities Commission investigated a public utility, customers were automatically responsible for the costs - even if the investigation concluded the utility was at fault for any problems.

The law - the product of extensive negotiations between Berry and his colleagues - would also allow the PUC to establish random independent audits of an electric utility's entire billing system, including meters. At present, the utility checks the accuracy of its own meters. This is a sharp contrast to gas pumps, which are independently regulated by the state's Bureau of Weights and Measures.

When the committee first considered the law change in April, all six Republicans on the committee voted to kill the bill. After that vote, members of the public, including a citizen ratepayer advocacy group, CMP Ratepayers Unite, contacted members of the committee urging them to reconsider.

Throughout the year, the committee had held extensive public hearings, work sessions and discussions on the electric utilities' response to the October 2017 windstorm. Members also discussed a recent rash of Central Maine Power customer complaints outlining problems with their electric bills, including major discrepancies between the amount of electricity used and the amount they were billed.

The law is a rewrite of LD 1729 and is now called "An Act To Restore Confidence In Utility Billing Systems."

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.

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