Regulators reject settlement with Electricity Maine

Maine state regulators on Wednesday rejected a proposed settlement with a rival electricity provider, concluding that the agreement, which provides customers with refunds and the option to switch plans, is not enough to punish the company, which has accumulated hundreds of consumer complaints.

The Public Utilities Commission voted 2-1 against the agreement with Electricity Maine and asked a hearing examiner to set a “prompt timetable” to resolve the dispute. The decision will extend a case that has been pending since February 2023.

Chairman Philip L. Bartlett II said the agreement was not in the public interest.

“It appears to boil down to whether it is better to find an immediate solution and provide significant relief to affected customers or, given Electricity Maine's alleged past violations, whether to consider further measures such as additional compensation to customers, administrative penalties and/or license revocation to improve the customer situation in the future,” he said.

“Electricity Maine has faced sanctions in the past and has been warned that it must comply with applicable rules and laws,” Bartlett said. “And now we are again facing a series of serious allegations. My only hesitation in rejecting the agreement is the time it will take to complete this process,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Electricity Maine did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the PUC's decision.

Electricity Maine, which was founded in Auburn in 2011 and bought by a Houston company in 2016, is accused of violating state law and administrative regulations by switching customers' accounts without their consent to a variable rate that is well above the standard offer rate for customers of Central Maine Power Co. and Versant Power. William Harwood, Maine's public advocate, is fighting Electricity Maine and demanding that its license be revoked.

Under the settlement, about 18,000 customers would have received refunds ranging from less than $10 to nearly $4,000, depending on their electricity usage.

Commissioner Patrick Scully voted for the agreement “with some reluctance”.

The agreement represents “appropriate, albeit modest, steps to remedy the harm caused to customers by Electricity Maine's actions in this matter,” he said. The agreements do not go “as far as they could” to compensate customers, and Electricity Maine's conduct could justify a significant penalty and possibly a suspension or termination of Electricity Maine's ability to do business in Maine, he said.

But settlements are generally a compromise, and the possibility of litigation may ultimately offer customers “a lesser remedy than the one afforded to them here,” Scully said.

Commissioner Carolyn C. Gilbert voted against the settlement, calling Electricity Maine a “bad actor” that converted customers’ fixed-rate accounts to variable-rate plans without properly notifying customers.

“For me, this is a very, very close call,” she said. “I think I'm just going to have to go with my gut, which is to deny the condition and ask staff to expedite the process so we can get this done in a timely manner.”

This story will be updated.

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