PUC To Decide Whether Natural Gas Supplier Can Recoup Years Worth Of Underbillings

Dec 20, 2017

We’re all familiar with getting overbilled for something and asking for our money back. But what happens when customers are underbilled? That’s the issue in a case pending before the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

Documents show that over an extended period of time, a Maine natural gas company undercharged a group of its biggest commercial customers by almost half a million dollars, and regulators will now have to decide whether those companies should be required to pay it back.

Maine Natural Gas is a midcoast supplier owned by Avangrid, which also owns Central Maine Power Co. Early this year it discovered that it had been misreading the meters of a dozen of its largest customers for varying amounts of time, for as little as a year to as many as 13 years.

Company officials declined to be interviewed, but in filings with the Public Utilities Commission, they peg the total value of what they undercharged at $456,000. The company rebilled those customers for the last 12 months, as it says the law allows it to do.

One of the customers, the authority that runs Brunswick Landing, was handed a new, six-figure bill.

“It’s in excess of $100,000,” says Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority that oversees Brunswick Landing, site of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Levesque says it appears that Maine Natural Gas misread the meter at one particular hangar, which housed several enterprises.

“Obviously it’s an impact and coming up with that money, trying to go back to tenants, because what we do is we get a bill then we bill the tenants based upon our bill, so we’d have to go back to tenants, some of which aren’t even in existence anymore,” he says.

Maine Natural Gas says most of the affected customers have already paid their make-up bills, and it has agreed not to take action against those that haven’t, such as the redevelopment authority, pending the outcome of the Public Utilities Commission’s inquiry.

The identity of most of those companies is not being disclosed in the public documents, and the proceeding is still in its early stages.

Barry Hobbins, the state’s public advocate, says one key question will be whether Maine Natural Gas should be required to collect underpayments from earlier years, and whether it should give credits to other customers who may have been paying costs they shouldn’t have.

“Which obviously causes a significant problem with the possibility of overbilling those other users,” he says.

In its filings, Maine Natural Gas says its shareholders bore the brunt of the underbillings and they should not be required to provide any credits. The case is not expected to be resolved until next year.

This story was originally published Dec. 19, 2017 at 4:33 p.m. ET.