Phil Bartlett, a former Maine Senate majority leader and a co-chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, was nominated Tuesday by Gov. Janet Mills to chair the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

An attorney and former chair of the Maine Democratic Party, Bartlett worked in the Legislature to forge bipartisan support for several of the state’s landmark energy initiatives, including Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative legislation, as well as bills to support renewable energy development. He also headed the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Energy Future.

The nomination was hailed by clean-energy advocates, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“Phil’s years of experience working to advance a transition to a clean-energy economy gives him a great understanding of what Mainers need and what Maine needs to do to become more energy independent,” said Dylan Voorhees, the NRCM’s clean energy director.

“The utility and energy sectors are more important than ever as Maine works toward a low-carbon future,” said Kate Dempsey, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “The experience Mr. Bartlett brings to the table, including as a former chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, will be valuable as the PUC evaluates regulatory issues affecting Maine’s climate, environment and economy in the coming years.”

Phil Bartlett, former Maine Senate majority leader and chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, has been nominated to serve as chair of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Photo courtesy of state of Maine

Bartlett’s name had been mentioned by energy industry insiders in recent weeks as Mills was narrowing her choices for the high-profile position. He would assume his post as the PUC is in the midst of an investigation into the cause of high and inaccurate utility bills for thousands of Central Maine Power customers last year following the switch to a new billing system in 2017.

Bartlett’s nomination is subject to review by the energy and utilities committee and final confirmation by the Maine State Senate. If confirmed, Bartlett will replace former PUC Chair Mark Vannoy whose term ended last month. He earned a base salary of roughly $133,000 in 2018. It wasn’t clear Tuesday what Bartlett would be paid.

Vannoy, as well as the two other commissioners, were appointed by Mills’ predecessor, Republican Gov. Paul LePage. The PUC’s three full-time commissioners serve staggered terms of six years. The governor designates one commissioner as chairman. This is the first PUC nomination for Mills, who took office in January.

“Phil Bartlett is a dedicated public servant and an experienced leader on energy policy who will uphold the Public Utilities Commission’s core responsibility of ensuring every Maine consumer has safe, adequate and reliable utility services at reasonable rates,” Mills said in a statement. “As chair of the PUC, Phil’s background in economics and utilities and his commitment to the state of Maine will be a significant asset to our state’s ratepayers.”

Bartlett was endorsed by Maine’s public advocate, Barry Hobbins, who had served with him on the energy committee and for eight years in the Senate.

“He’s deliberate and progressive,” Hobbins said. “I think he will bring a different approach from the former chairman. It will be consistent with the current administration and governor and the new approach to carbon footprint and renewable energy. I think that it’s a good fit and a safe appointment.”

Hobbins, also a former Democratic Party leader, said Bartlett would need to overcome any notion in the business community and among Republicans that he would be prone to partisan decisions.

“He must pivot to representing all ratepayers,” Hobbins said. “He’s going to have to adjust his public statements and personal opinions.”

Clean-energy advocates had been critical of decisions by Vannoy that were seen as slowing the growth of solar power generation in Maine.

By contrast, Bartlett has expressed support for the value of clean energy to help Maine’s environment and grow jobs, according to Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

“He has a clear understanding of the issues facing Maine,” Payne said. “He can hit the ground running.”

Payne said he’s aware that Mills spent months interviewing candidates for the job, and settled on Bartlett after a deliberate process. He and others have noted that Mills was looking for someone with a legal background to balance the skills of the other commissioners, Bruce Williamson, an economist, and Randy Davis, a systems engineer from the paper industry.

Elected four times, Bartlett served in the Maine Senate from 2004 to 2012 and was elected by his peers to serve as Senate majority leader from 2008 to 2010. Most recently, Bartlett led the Maine Democratic Party, from 2014 to late 2018, stepping down after Mills was elected.

Bartlett, 42, is a Gorham native, and a graduate of Tufts University and Harvard Law School. He has practiced law with Scaccia, Bartlett & Chabot since 2004. He lives in Portland with his daughter, Abigail.