December 8, 2022

Maine utility plan in jeopardy following divided committee vote

Gov. Janet Mills’ proposal to improve accountability and service of the state’s utilities is facing headwinds after a key legislative committee failed to endorse the bill.

The proposal, filed by the first-term Democrat last month, would require the state Public Utilities Commission to set “minimum standards of service” that utilities must deliver for Maine ratepayers. It would give state regulators the authority to crack down on utilities that don’t meet these standards by imposing harsher penalties, including forcing the public sale of the utility for inadequate service.

But the Legislature’s Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology failed to recommend approval of the measure during a work session on Friday, when several amendments were added to the original bill.

Committee members were split three ways on the legislation, with small factions of lawmakers backing different amendments to the proposal.

Many of the changes are technical in nature, but others dealt with issues such as climate change adaption that weren’t embraced by majority of the committee.

The measure now heads to the full Senate, which must decide which version of the legislation – if any – to endorse, before sending it to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Under the plan, publicly regulated utilities will be required to submit regular reports demonstrating that they have met the basic standards. Those reports will cover utility operations, customer service and billing, and initiatives to combat climate change, such as interconnecting to solar projects, according to the Mills administration.

Mills file the legislation after vetoing a bipartisan bill that would have put a question on the November ballot asking voters to approve the creation of the Pine Tree Power Company by taking over the sprawling distribution and service areas of Central Maine Power Company and Versant Power.

Supporters say a nonprofit, consumer-owned utility would deliver clean, reliable electricity at a lower cost and with local control over the operations.

Mills vetoed the plan, citing a number of concerns about the bill, including its governance structure, financing mechanisms, wording of the ballot measure, potential for protracted litigation, the authority’s regulatory system, and delays in meeting the state’s climate goals.

Despite her opposition, Mills acknowledged that service by the state’s two largest utilities has been “abysmal” and urged lawmakers to go back to the table to come up with a better plan.

Lawmakers weren’t able to muster enough votes for the two-thirds majority needed to override her veto.

This article was originally posted on Maine utility plan in jeopardy following divided committee vote

Sydney Boles