July 24, 2021

Mills rejects plan to create publicly owned utility in Maine

3 min read

A plan to create Maine’s first consumer-owned utility was dealt a blow Tuesday after Gov. Janet Mills vetoed the legislation.

The bipartisan proposal, which was recently approved by the Legislature, sought to put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to approve the creation of the Pine Tree Power Company by taking over the distribution and service areas of Central Maine Power Company and Versant Power.

Lawmakers who approved the plan say a nonprofit, consumer-owned utility would deliver clean, reliable electricity at a lower cost and with local control over the operations.

But Mills vetoed the proposal, calling it “a patchwork of political promises rather than a methodical reformation of Maine’s complicated electrical transmission and distribution system.”

“I share the frustrations surrounding the service and performance of Maine’s utilities but I am deeply concerned that this bill presents a rosy solution to a complicated problem that, if implemented, would create more problems than it solves,” she wrote.

The Democrat cited a number of concerns about the bill, including its governance structure, financing mechanisms, wording of the ballot measure, potential for protracted litigation, the authority’s regulatory system, and delays in meeting the state’s climate goals.

Despite her opposition, Mills acknowledged that service by the state’s two largest utilities has been “abysmal” and urged lawmakers to go back to the table to come up with a better plan.

“It may well be that the time has come for the people of the State of Maine to retake control over the assets on which they depend for the lifeblood of our communities, that is, our electric transmission and distribution services,” Mills said in a statement. “And there may be a way to create a utility with a professional governing board that is clearly eligible to issue low-interest, tax-exempt bonds that would save ratepayers money, achieve better connectivity with solar and other renewables, and further the climate goals of this administration.”

The Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, a special interest group set up to oppose the proposal, said a government takeover means consumers would be on the hook for more than $13.5 billion for buying the two utilities, which supply much of the state’s energy.

“If the state government takes control of Maine’s grid, we’ll be leaving decisions about management of power delivery up to a board of elected politicians,” the group said.

Both Central Maine Power Company and Versant Power had warned that the plan could impact the cost and reliability of electricity in the state.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine Chamber of Commerce, praised Mills for rejecting the plan citing the need for “stability and predictability” as the state recovers from the pandemic.

“Decisions that have such a large consequence for every citizen of Maine, should not be decided by one sentence on the ballot and 30 second sound bites, such significant policy decisions should be vetted thoroughly by the legislature,” Connors said in a statement.

But the group Our Power Maine, which supports the proposal to create Pine Tree Power, vowed to press on with its efforts to create a publicly owned utility.

“We need to change our utility ownership model now,” the group posted on social media. “And a consumer-owned utility will put us on the path to better performance and lower cost.”

This article was originally posted on Mills rejects plan to create publicly owned utility in Maine

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