The Maine Senate voted down a bill to form a consumer-owned utility to buy the assets of Central Maine Power and Versant Power, reversing the results of initial Senate action and considerably dimming the bill’s chances of passing the Legislature this session.
The measure passed the Senate a day earlier on a preliminary vote of 19-16, but it failed by a single vote on final enactment, 17-18. There was no debate in the Senate chamber on the matter, and an effort to keep the bill alive early Friday morning in the House was rejected as the Legislature adjourned and not returning until June 30.
The bill has seen both bipartisan support and opposition. Flipping their votes on the bill in the Senate were Sen. David Woodsome. R-North Waterboro, and Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, and Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, who have both been critics of CMP and its ongoing expansion of an electric power corridor through western Maine, dubbed the New England Clean Energy Connect.
Had the measure been approved by the Legislature, it faced a likely veto from Gov. Janet Mills, who had expressed public opposition in recent weeks about the measure, which would allow for an eminent domain takeover of the two electricity providers who deliver power to more than 800,000 Maine homes.
Among Mills’ concerns is the loss of property tax payments to municipalities where the two power companies hold assets. The bill includes a provision that the new consumer-owned utility, which would be governed by a publicly elected board of directors, would make payments in lieu of taxes. Mills has questioned, however, whether that provision would be enforceable.
The bill also would need to be ratified in a statewide vote in November, should it pass the Legislature and survive a veto.
Supporters of the measure have touted it as a way for the state to regain control of its power grid and lower prices while improving service and reliability. But opponents have argued against what they see as a government-initiated takeover of two private businesses, and have said the state, through its Public Utilities Commission, already has a mechanism to protect ratepayers.
Representative Berry indicated that although the bill is tabled for now, supporters of a consumer-owned utility in Maine intend to move forward with a ballot question initiative for 2022 should their efforts in the Legislature fail.