By Ramona du Houx
March 12, 2022
AUGUSTA – Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, presented LD 697, An Act To Enhance the Energy Security of Maine Residents, before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on March 8, 2022.
The bill as amended would require the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to deny any future purchase of a Maine utility by a foreign entity if potential ownership jeopardizes reliability, customer privacy and safety, regulatory capacity or the state’s economy.
For example Central Maine Power (CMP) is owned by a Spanish conglomerate and has been accused of unfair consumer practices in Maine. They used millions to try and influence the building of an electric corridor from Northern Maine to Massachusetts. The CMP “corridor” was stoped by a public referendum. CMP is currently under investigation by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
“Our utilities provide critical services on which our lives and livelihoods depend,” said Rep. Berry. “Today, our two largest utilities are owned by foreign governments, either in whole or in part. This is a new phenomenon driven by the recent rise of globalization, state-owned enterprises and sovereign wealth funds. Our current laws, mostly written in the last century, do not provide the PUC with a playbook to deal with this, so it is our job to step up and protect the interests of Mainers.”
“Over the years, Mainers have seen their utility providers change hands multiple times,” said Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, sponsor in the Maine State Senate. “Today we let foreign governments own our critical utility infrastructure outright, and also let them spend unlimited money to influence our elections. What could possibly go wrong?”
“Clearly the lack of oversight of our current foreign-owned utility corporations has impacted the citizens of Maine by increasing profits for overseas shareholders at the expense of costs to our ratepayers and to the service of all users,” said Becky Bartovics, volunteer leader at Sierra Club Maine. “The Public Utilities Commission needs this kind of legislation to be able to move into a more forward-looking analysis as they deal with our future needs.”
The Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee is holding work sessions on the bill.
Berry represents House District 55, which includes Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island and most of Richmond. He previously served from 2006 to 2014, the final two years as House majority leader, and returned to the House in 2016.