The Maine Public Utilities Commission sought to reassure Central Maine Power Co. customers Tuesday that the recent release of a staff report on the utility’s billing and metering issues has not resulted in any changes to how the agency is handling individual billing disputes and customer complaints.

Despite misinformation to the contrary, the PUC has neither terminated its interim policy allowing certain CMP customers to defer payment on a portion of their disputed bills nor stopped trying to resolve CMP customers’ complaints related to billing or other issues, the agency said Tuesday.

And CMP isn’t contacting customers on the phone threatening them to “pay or else,” as a ratepayer group has claimed.

The confusion comes after a representative of CMP Ratepayers Unite, a Facebook group formed by customers who saw unexplained increases in the amount of their CMP bills in late 2017 and 2018, issued a statement Monday falsely stating that the deferral program had been terminated by the PUC’s staff.

On Thursday, the PUC staff issued a report recommending actions the full commission should take following a yearlong investigation of CMP’s billing and metering system. The report found “no systemic problem” that would have caused erroneously high customer bills, but it also found that mismanagement by CMP contributed to late and inaccurate bills, and it recommended penalizing the utility by reducing its earnings to offset part of a rate increase CMP is seeking.

Those and other determinations come from lawyers and other experts deeply involved in the investigation. But they are solely recommendations to guide the three PUC commissioners when they rule on both the CMP billing controversy and proposed rate increase during a meeting scheduled for Jan. 30.

“The entire examiners reports are staff recommendations,” PUC spokesman Harry Lanphear said in a statement Tuesday. “No decisions have been made until the commissioners deliberate.”

Under the deferral policy, CMP customers who meet certain requirements can defer payment on the disputed portion of their bills. However, they are required to register their dispute with the utility.

On Monday, CMP Ratepayers Unite liaison Judith Hopkins sent a statement to media indicating that the deferral policy had ended because of the PUC staff report’s recommendations.

The inaccurate statement was attributed to Sumner Lipman, a lawyer who represents customers seeking to file a class-action lawsuit against CMP over high bills. Lipman also advises CMP Ratepayers Unite.

Lipman said the ratepayer group asked him to review the section of the PUC staff report regarding the deferral program, and he thought it was “inconsistent.”

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