The pros and cons of creating a statewide, consumer-owned electric utility in Maine will be studied over the next eight months and compiled into a report for lawmakers, a legislative committee has decided.

The work would be done by staff at the Public Utilities Commission with help from outside experts. The PUC could spend up to $500,000 from an agency fund to hire consultants through a bidding process. The Office of Public Advocate and Governor’s Energy Office also could help as needed.

The study would be due back at the Legislature by Feb. 15.

If approved by the Legislature in the coming days, the study would represent the next step for critics of Central Maine Power and Emera Maine, who seek to replace the state’s two dominate investor-owned utilities with a public power authority.

The decision, in the form of a resolve, was voted out unanimously last Friday by the Energy, Utilities and Technology committee. It sprang from the panel’s scrutiny of L.D. 1646, a bill aimed at placing Maine’s power delivery system in local control.

The idea of Maine buying the state’s two investor-owned utilities and transitioning to public power has surfaced before, but it has failed to gain traction. But CMP’s fumbling of a recent billing system changeover, as well as mounting opposition to its planned transmission line through western Maine, have breathed new life into the concept.


CMP’s political adversaries now see their best chance in years to tap into the public’s unrest and realize their goal of a consumer-owned electric company serving most of Maine. It would be called the Maine Power Delivery Authority.

Both CMP and Emera have made it clear, however, that they will fight what they consider to be a government takeover of their businesses. They stressed at a public hearing last month they would oppose any effort both in court and in the Legislature.

Gov. Janet Mills has yet to weigh in on the idea. But last week, she vetoed two bills aimed at giving local governments the ability to block CMP’s proposed transmission line through western Maine.

The resolve’s preamble lays out the supporters’ justification for such a drastic action. It notes that 19 of 20 Mainers are served by a foreign-owned power company (Spain for CMP, Canada for Emera), whereas consumer-owned utilities serve one of seven Americans and, supporters say, typically enjoy lower rates and better reliability. It also says New England has some of the nation’s highest electric rates, driven largely by recent transmission projects.

Among other things, the PUC and its consultants would analyze the costs and benefits of the proposal; examine legal, regulatory and technical aspects; and assess potential impacts on electric rates, employees and customers. They also would develop alternatives to the proposal to address obstacles and identify aspects that may need further evaluation.

The resolve, proposed by one of the committee’s co-chairs, Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, initially envisioned setting up a 13-member task force of stakeholders to help carry out the study. The committee ultimately decided to streamline the process, he said Monday.

Requests for proposals to consultants are likely to go out this summer, Berry said, which will lay out the details of the study and be available for public review.

Berry’s committee also is expected to meet a few times during the summer and fall to receive updates on the study.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.