On the heels of last month’s announcement by state Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) of a plan to create a statewide consumer-owned utility, an increasing number of environmental groups, grassroots volunteers and policymakers are now aligning behind the bold policy to take on the state’s two biggest energy utilities, Central Maine Power and Emera Maine. 

Berry’s legislation, still yet to be published or referred to committee, would establish the Maine Power Delivery Authority, similar to the Long Island Power Authority and local consumer-owned utilities like Kennebunk Light and Power District, Madison Electric Works, and Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative in Calais. The board would purchase the power transmission and distribution assets owned by the two energy firms at market value through revenue bonds. 

Berry argues that CMP and Emera have captive customers whose complaints over rising monthly bills come second to their international corporate investors. Were the state’s energy grid in the hands of Mainers and not bound to the profit-motive of corporate boards and investors, he says ratepayers would see less expensive rates, more reliability, and more accountability than they had in the past. 

State Rep. Tina Riley (D-Jay), a member of the legislature’s Energy Utilities and Technology Committee, which Berry chairs, says that rate payers are seeing more expensive energy bills even as the cost of generating that power is going down. “The expensive parts of our rates are in transmission and distribution, which keep going up, while the actual costs for creating that power has gone down,” she said. “That’s where an investor-owned utility gets their profits from. So to me, they are aimed in the wrong direction.” 

The second-term representative says she would sign on as a co-sponsor of Berry’s legislation if asked, as utility costs are a common concern among the people in her district. 


“We see large corporations handing over lottery-style salaries and bonuses to their top executives and making ridiculous profits,” she said. “It is always in their best interest to drive up our costs. And with a consumer-owned utility, that simply wouldn’t be the case.” 

State Sen. Marianne Moore, a Republican representing rural Washington County, has also expressed support for a statewide consumer-owned utility. 

The prospect of a utility more responsive to the public, administered by a board appointed by the governor and approved by the legislature, is exciting to some environmentalists, who say CMP — owned by the Spanish firm Iberdrola and its subsidiary Avangrid — has been the biggest obstacle to expanding solar energy in the state. 

“They have been fighting tooth and nail against solar power,” said Tony Donovan, chair of the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club. “It’s all about profits.” 

In previous legislative sessions, CMP lobbyists sought to limit participation in community solar projects to nine houses or businesses, and fought to phase out Maine’s net metering program, which allowed consumers with solar panels to receive a credit if they generated more electricity than they used. However, on March 14, the Maine House passed a bill sponsored by Berry to reestablish net metering. 

Maine’s Sierra Club members are also opposed to the partnership between Hydro-Québec and CMP to build of power corridor through Maine — which Donovan says is a further example of where a consumer-owned utility would be more responsive to the public’s concerns. 


“Hydro-Quebec is not clean energy like CMP has been telling us,” Donovan said. “We know this.” 

On Thursday, Donovan was at the State House educating Sierra Club members and other volunteers about Berry’s legislation. 

He was joined by Kristy Pottle, who started the CMP Ratepayers Unite Facebook page after she was surprised to be charged $653 for a month of electricity last year. 

“It is a place where frustrated CMP customers can gather to demand explanations for billing errors and call for reimbursements,” she said. Her Facebook page, which now has over 7,700 followers, was initially formed to be a forum for upset customers to feel heard, but now with the unveiling of a consumer-owned utility proposal, she is trying to channel her followers’ energy into what she sees as a viable solution. 

“I am looking for ways to convince people that this is a way to get to a locally-owned power company,” she said. 

Lewiston resident Carrie Jadud, a member of the Maine People’s Alliance, which operates Beacon, was also at the State House Thursday. 


A couple of years ago, Jadud moved to Lewiston from a small Kentucky town, Berea, which established the first community-shared solar installation in the state.   

“We have maybe a decade before we begin seeing the devastating effects of climate change,” she said, referring to the 2018 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that says the immediate consequences of climate change will appear sooner than previously thought. “I don’t think we can depend on CMP to transition to renewable energy out of the goodness of their hearts.” 

South Portland resident and artist Charlie Schreiber sees a Maine-owned utility as a path towards a greener energy grid. “It’s a first step, but it could be a big first step,” he said outside the Maine House of Representatives Thursday. “Anything we can do to potentially stop the extraction of more fossil fuels from the ground, is a positive step.”   

Dick Rogers, business manager of IBEW Local 1837, which represents 1,600 electrical workers at CMP and Emera Maine, says he feels the proposed consumer-owned utility could be a solution to the workforce and cost issues he has seen with CMP. 

Between 2006 and 2018, according to the union, CMP cut 15 percent of its workforce, including line workers, meter readers, clerical staff and bucket-truck mechanics. Those layoffs have led CMP  to rely on more expensive outside contractors when outages occur, which contributed to Maine having the least reliable service in the country in 2017, yet among the highest delivery rates. 

“The current structure and workforce model, driven in large part due to the current utility ownership at CMP and Emera, has had a significant negative impact on all employees, and more importantly, the ratepayers in Maine,” he said last month at a press conference launching the legislative effort. 

While the union has not yet officially endorsed Berry’s proposal, it has  been invited to the table and Rogers is hoping that once the legislation is finalized, he will be able to take it to his members to discuss. 

The bill to create a Maine Power Delivery Authority has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing. 

The preceding originally appeared on mainebeacon.com, a website and podcast created by progressive group the Maine People’s Alliance. 

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