Central Maine Power on Monday distanced itself from allegations in Connecticut that electric and gas utilities there, including subsidiaries of its parent company, were suing customers over unpaid bills incurred during the coronavirus pandemic.

Both the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Maine Office of Public Advocate said Monday that they were unaware of any similar actions being taken by Maine utilities, and CMP said it doesn’t sue people to recover unpaid bills.

“CMP follows collections practices approved by the PUC,” CMP spokesperson Catharine Hartnett said. “We do not file lawsuits for collections or garnish wages for active customer accounts.”

The accusations in Connecticut included companies that are subsidiaries of Avangrid Corp., the domestic parent of CMP.

In a news release issued Friday, Connecticut’s Office of Consumer Counsel said it had obtained information from the utilities “through interrogatories that demonstrates that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the utility companies sued consumers for nonpayment and sought and received wage garnishment in court.”

The companies named are Avangrid; which owns United Illuminating Co., Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Natural Gas; and Eversource, which owns Yankee Gas Services and Aquarion Water Co.


Avangrid is based in Orange, Connecticut, and is itself a subsidiary of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola. Eversource is a publicly traded holding company with customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The Consumer Counsel’s office said these utilities sued customers and are seeking to garnish their wages to collect unpaid bills. It took special note of United Illuminating and asked the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to look into the charges.

“(The counsel, the regulatory authority), the attorney general, and many other stakeholders have worked diligently over the course of the pandemic to ensure that consumers facing financial hardship receive the assistance they need to keep the lights on and the heat running,” Interim Consumer Counsel Claire Coleman said in a statement. “To learn that our utilities, and to the greatest extent United Illuminating, were pursuing judgments against consumers in court during the COVID-19 State of Emergency rather than directing them to the many assistance and relief programs available during this time is shocking.”

The companies said they were reviewing the petition, according to reports by Connecticut media outlets.

Avangrid stated that its Connecticut utilities “were some of the first utility companies in the region to suspend turnoffs due to nonpayment at the start of the pandemic.”

“As the pandemic continued, we helped customers take advantage of the numerous products, government assistance and services designed to help them pay for their energy use in a flexible and customer-friendly manner,” the company said. “This includes options such as interest-free pandemic payment plans, suspension of late payment charges, and referrals to assistance programs.”



In Maine, a spokeswoman for the PUC said it’s not illegal for utilities to try to recover unpaid bills in civil court but that it’s rare. That applies to both investor- and consumer-owned utilities, she noted.

“We’re not aware of any utilities suing customers for unpaid electric bills,” Susan Faloon said.

Maine Public Advocate William Harwood also said he was unaware of anything like this happening in the state. 

Under Maine law, essential utility services such as electricity can’t be shut off from Nov. 15 to April 15 without the PUC’s permission. That permission is granted in rare cases, Faloon said, such as when a house has been unoccupied for several months.

Bills that remain unpaid over time are referred to a collection agency. Charges that ultimately can’t be collected end up being paid by all customers in the form of higher rates.


Faloon noted that utilities offer a variety of payment programs, including so-called budget billing, which averages the amount of monthly payments to avoid seasonal spikes. She encouraged customers struggling with bills to contact their utility first and see if they qualify for financial assistance. If that’s not successful, the PUC’s Consumer Assistance Division can often help develop a plan.

“The utilities are bending over backwards to work with customers right now,” she said.

At CMP, Hartnett pointed to the increase in government funding to help with COVID-related impacts, such as an emergency rental assistance program at the Maine State Housing Authority.

“CMP has been actively reaching out to customers through bill messages and inserts and on social media and in any applicable phone inquiry,” she said, “to let customers know how they can access these funds.”

Other sources of help are summarized on CMP’s website.



The issue of how to handle a jump in unpaid bills during the height of the pandemic emerged as an issue in Maine going back to 2020.

In January 2021, the Maine PUC denied a request to reinstate a ban that would have kept CMP from sending disconnection notices to its customers.

In a unanimous decision, the three-member commission ruled that CMP didn’t violate any laws or rules related to issuing such notices, and that there was no basis for investigating the complaint against CMP.

In September 2020, the PUC phased out its emergency ban on utilities sending shutoff warnings to residential customers with past-due bills as of Nov. 1 and signaled that Mainers who have fallen behind on their utility bills during the pandemic would have to start making payment arrangements or risk having their service cut off.

But in late December, lawyers representing a group of CMP customers filed a complaint requesting that the moratorium on residential shutoff notices be reinstated, and that all disconnections or threats of disconnection for electric, gas, phone and water utilities be suspended until after April 15.

The complaint argued that the pandemic and its financial impacts have gotten worse, and that sending shutoff notices to electric customers is an unreasonable practice in the current situation.

CMP noted in January 2021 that it hadn’t made any requests to shut off a customer’s power since the moratorium was lifted. It estimated then that about 5 percent, or roughly 32,000, of its 640,000 customers recently had received notices informing them that their balances were overdue.

In January of this year, it sent just over 40,000 past-due reminders to customers.

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