When I first read that Central Maine Power was asking for a rate hike again this year, I almost laughed. After all, it bungled the rollout of its new billing system the weekend before a major October 2017 storm and then took 10 days to fully restore power. The outages and problems with the new billing system caused a flood of calls to the customer service department, but the company made no effort to improve its customer service. An independent audit found that during January through March of 2018, all customer bills contained errors. Still, we heard no explanation from the company until July.

Maybe it’s because, in order to save money, Spanish parent company Iberdrola forced CMP to outsource its billing and other general services to its U.S. holding company, Avangrid. Even the Maine PUC, which under former Gov. Paul LePage seemed quite friendly to utilities, noted that service degraded when some functions were consolidated and operational decisions were no longer made locally. The new billing system was rolled out in a hurry, cutting 13 weeks of testing, with little or no training for employees, who struggled with the deluge of customer complaints. According to market research firm J.D. Power, the company’s residential customer satisfaction was first among large eastern utilities before the Iberdrola takeover, but fell to 12 out of 16 last year.

But it didn’t cut costs because it was losing money. In 2018, CMP generated $130 million of Avangrid’s $600 million in profits for Iberdrola. Who is benefiting from these profits? Iberdrola is 66 percent owned by “foreign investors,” according to its 2018 annual report filed with the Spanish government. Among the largest investors are the Qatari government and Wall Street powerhouse BlackRock, a “global investment manager.” It’s pretty obvious that CMP’s customers aren’t benefiting.

Adding insult to injury, we’re being victimized in another way: according to Good Jobs First, a government accountability watchdog group, Iberdrola and its subsidiaries have received more than $2.2 billion in local, state and federal subsidies. Those are our tax dollars, folks. We pay them at the front end to install smart meters, protect the environment, invest in green power; and then CMP charges us again for all that and more in our electricity rates.

The mendacity of investor-owned utilities is probably surpassed only by that of health insurance companies, but that’s a subject for another day. After receiving a rate hike of 18.4 per cent in January 2018, CMP has the unmitigated gall to tell the PUC — which is to say, us – it needs another hike of 10.65 percent. Your “Dear Customer” letter says the company needs to pay for increased operating costs and new grid investments. It’s going to – wait for it – add front line staff in Electric Operations and Customer Service! It’s going to increase funding for power restoration after storms!

This is after it told us in 2010 that the new “smart meters” would enhance accurate billing and show us how to save money by doing our laundry at 3 a.m., when rates are low. But our bills went up anyway. The only one who saved money was CMP, which let 85 meter readers go and pocketed $8 million. Until very recently, according to the Bangor Daily News, the company’s payroll has remained flat, from $65 million in 2007 to just $74 million in 2018, which is actually a 5 percent decrease when adjusted for inflation.

So, it appears that in order to sustain its 10 to 12 percent profitability, we hapless customers will have to fork over more for less. Why are we putting up with this? We don’t have to. There is another answer. We can put electric power in the public domain and take it out of the hands of faceless international companies that are interested only in shareholder returns. I suspect that many CMP workers from the bottom to the top would agree.

I encourage everyone to take this opportunity to write to the PUC about the proposed CMP rate hike. You can file a public comment here. The case number is 2018-00194.