By Ramona du Houx
The Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee voted to advance a historic bill June 1, 2021 to replace Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant with the Pine Tree Power Company, a consumer-owned electric utility dedicated to providing Mainers with lower cost, locally controlled, more reliable, cleaner electricity.
Over the years, many people have testified that CMP has not been responsible to customer needs. From responding too slowly to restore power after storms to billing customers inflated rates, the electricity giant has misused its power.
The majority of the committee members voted in favor of LD 1708, sponsored by the committee’s House chair, Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, as amended. The vote was 9-2, earning support from Republican and Democratic members. Two committee members were absent at the time of the vote.
“As an independent nonprofit with an elected board and private sector operations, the Pine Tree Power Company will allow us to control our own money and our own energy destiny– to advance fast and fairly toward our own clean energy and connectivity future,” said Rep Berry, a former House majority leader and founder of the Legislative Broadband Caucus.
Berry’s bill is a carefully crafted, bipartisan measure that would let Maine people vote to create the nonprofit, consumer-owned utility and is the result of three years of research and refinement by the Legislature.
Maine endures the worst and longest outages in the nation and the 10th highest rates in the nation. Maine ratepayers send $150-$325 million per year to the owners of CMP/Avangrid/Iberdrola, and millions more to the owners of Versant. Versant is also Maine’s most expensive mainland utility, and it now seeks a 25.4 percent rate hike.
Maine’s for-profit utilities, CMP and Versant, also rank at the bottom of the entire nation for customer satisfaction, according to J.D. Power’s authoritative survey of U.S. customer satisfaction for all large and mid-sized utilities. CMP is ranked worst of all 142 utilities in the survey, and Versant third worst.
The bill’s public hearing on May 20 drew strong bipartisan support from members of the public.
The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee will review language in Berry’s measure related to the Maine Freedom of Access Act, and then the bill will go before the full House and Senate for further votes.
Berry represents House District 55: Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island and most of Richmond. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House majority leader, and returned to the House in 2016.