On a chilly June morning, Lisa MacLeod stood in her cheese room making kefir from goats that grazed a few hundred feet away and wondered aloud if she would end up losing the Greenwood farm because of a runaway electricity bill that no one can explain.
“I’m at a point that I can’t afford to stay here and do business,” she said.
The state-licensed cheese maker owes Central Maine Power about $10,000. She stopped paying her bills about three years ago, after the utility swapped out her three old analog meters for new ones. One month later, she got a $500 bill, double the size of the monthly bill she’d been getting since 2002.
According to the new bill, the average electricity usage at Tourmaline Hill Farm had jumped from 1,600 kilowatt hours a month to 3,000. She thought it a mistake – this happened once before, and a quick call had led to a quick fix – so she called CMP and asked for a meter check.
The meters checked out fine, but the billing representative said not to worry, they’d keep looking. A few months went by before CMP called back, not with an adjusted bill but to say the MacLeods had to pay the full amount due, agree to a payment plan or face disconnection.
When asked about the sudden increase, the CMP representative blamed the MacLeods.
“I was told it was my fault,” MacLeod said. “I had a bad well, which was not true. I had a bad coffee maker. I had a bad refrigerator. I had a bad something, when really, we’d upgraded from older to newer units, so it should have been going down. Yet the bill still goes up.”
She hired an electrician to inspect the property and check her electrical usage, which he pegged at about 1,600 kilowatts an hour, which was what the old analog meters measured for more than a decade of farming and cheese-making.
MacLeod was one of the first to join the class action lawsuit filed by CMP ratepayers against the utility.
She has been depositing $250 a month, which is what she estimates she really owes them, in a separate account that she will give CMP once her dispute is settled. She doesn’t trust the billing department that lost a previous $2,000 payment she made after an early-disconnect warning, for which she has the receipts.
“It’s been difficult,” MacLeod said. “I’m just waiting for the day they show up on my doorstep telling me you’re permanently disconnected. You owe us $10,000, pay us or otherwise … That is where we’re at at this point.”