AUGUSTA — A man with nearly 40 years of experience in the paper industry – but little background with regulatory or legal matters – was endorsed by a legislative committee Wednesday to join the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

Randall Davis of Smithfield won the recommendation of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee in a unanimous vote. Throughout his confirmation hearing, he projected the attitude of a calm, capable executive who didn’t know everything about the sometimes-arcane issues handled by the PUC, but knew how to find answers to complex problems.

His confirmation faced no public opposition at the hearing.

Davis is currently the energy manager at Sappi North America’s Somerset paper mill. He has worked for Maine’s largest papermaker for 38 years, and has spent the past six years managing electric and natural gas contracts and other energy matters to maximize revenue at the mill.

“Mr. Davis has done outstanding work leading Sappi’s successful overhaul to reduce energy cost in Skowhegan,” said Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the committee’s co-chair. “He is a straight shooter, a problem solver, a quick study and a hard worker.”

Davis was nominated by Gov. Paul LePage to fill a seat left vacant on the three-member panel by the resignation of Carlisle McLean. His confirmation still must be approved by the Maine Senate.

The three commissioners decide cases involving multimillion-dollar power projects, energy-efficiency spending, telecom service and other actions that affect what Mainers pay on their utility bills.

Replacing McLean was a priority for LePage. Last February, the governor said he’d fire all three members if he could, even though he had appointed them.

LePage was upset about a policy they enacted that was meant to reform financial incentives for owners of rooftop solar panels. He said it would lead to a massive expansion of the solar industry and hurt businesses and consumers.

In Davis, LePage apparently believes he has another shot at obtaining a regulator more in line with his priorities of lowering power costs and opposing most renewable energy incentives. And because PUC commissioners are nominated for six-year terms, their influence endures long after the governor has left office.

But during the hearing, Davis drew a contrast by laying out some of his guiding principles.

He said he sees utilities as a human right. He said he sees a need to balance the desire to “jumpstart” new initiatives or “rescue” outdated businesses against any increased cost to ratepayers. And he made clear statements about his thoughts on renewable energy and climate change.

“Solar and wind are not just passing fads,” he said. “They are our needed transition from fossil fuels …”

“Global warming is real and in no small measure man-made,” he concluded.

But Davis admitted he was less well-versed on specific policies and issues facing the PUC. He told the committee he had instead prepared for the hearing by focusing on the process and rules by which the agency operates.

He also said that although his professional career has been in the industrial sector, at the core, he looks at energy costs from a consumer’s perspective.

If confirmed by the Senate, Davis will join Mark Vannoy, chairman, and R. Bruce Williamson on the commission.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

[email protected]

[email protected]