Maine legislators have again proposed creating a new nonprofit, consumer-owned electric utility to replace two investor-owned utilities in the state, a move the electric companies say would cost billions of dollars to implement and delay the state reaching its clean energy goals.
Central Maine Power Co. (CMP) and Versant Power are the two investor-owned utilities that currently serve the state.
A bipartisan group of legislators, including state Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), House chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and sponsor of the bill, say a consumer-owned utility would improve service and lower rates. Berry introduced a similar bill in 2020 that died in the legislature.
The new bill calls for the creation of the Pine Tree Power Co., an independent, not-for-profit entity that would be run by seven elected board members and four expert advisory members. The legislation, if enacted, would require the consumer-owned utility to purchase the assets of CMP and Versant for fair market value through the issuance of its own bonds.
CMP, a subsidiary of Avangrid, is Maine’s largest electricity transmission and distribution utility, serving 620,000 customers and representing about 80 percent of Maine’s customer base.
Both supporters of a public utility and the investor-owned utilities have prioritized clean energy initiatives, but have different views on who can help Maine reach its renewable energy goals faster.
Maine is not new to consumer-owned utilities. Kennebunk Light and Power, Madison Electric Works, and Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative are currently operating in Maine.
The sale of an electric company’s private assets to a public utility is a lengthy, complex and expensive process that typically takes many years.
Whether creating a consumer-owned utility would result in improved reliability is another issue that is being debated. Critics of the investor-owned utilities are frustrated with power outages in the state. But often reliability has more to do with the state of Maine than any one individual utility.