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Bill to create publicly owned utility headed to Legislature

Legislature
Credit: Photo by Joshua Sukoff on Unsplash

A bill that aims to replace Central Maine Power and Versant Power with a consumer-owned utility was watered down on Friday before being forwarded to the full Legislature for consideration.

The Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee voted 8-1 to approve the amended bill. Four committee members did not vote.

But it’s unclear if the new proposal will be considered by the full Legislature since there’s no agreement for lawmakers to return to Augusta for a special session to complete their work.

The amendment calls for a task force to create a business plan and conduct further studies of the costs and benefits of converting Maine’s largest utilities from private to public ownership.

Should the transition move forward, the Maine Power Delivery Authority would replace Central Maine Power Company and Versant, and operate like existing consumer-owned utilities such as Kennebunk Light and Power District and Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative.

The bill’s supporters say there would be large upfront costs but also savings of roughly $9 billion for Maine over 30 years. But CMP’s executive chairman described the cost savings analysis as unrealistic.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Seth Berry, a committee co-chair, said it’s important for the due diligence to continue. “Now more than ever, our economy demands that we do things with thrift, ingenuity and a fresh look at local solutions that can lift all boats,” he said Friday in a statement.

But critics said the committee effectively replaced the old proposal with a complete new proposal with no public input on Friday.

CMP was “disappointed that the committee provided no opportunity to be heard on their brand new bill before voting on a proposal which is meant to be the first step in a takeover of the electric system at an enormous cost,” said spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett.

Berry, D-Bowdoinham, has been critical of how CMP has conducted business over the past few years, including its botched rollout of a billing and metering system that led to widespread complaints. CMP also came under fire for a slow response to power outages.

CMP and Versant, which was formerly Emera Maine, provide about 95% of the electricity used in Maine homes and businesses.