By Ramona du Houx
The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee (EUT) on July 24, 2020 voted 8-1 (with four members still to vote) to proceed with additional consideration of Rep. Seth Berry’s proposal to create a “Maine Power Delivery Authority.” LD 1646 as amended would make key preparations to convert Maine’s private, foreign-owned electricity utilities to local, consumer ownership, and to recommend the formation of an expert task force to create a proposed transition plan and business plan for the new utility.
A study released this week showed the state would save $9 billion over the first 30 years if private, foreign-owned monopolies were converted to consumer ownership. Maine presently has eight consumer-owned utilities serving 97 towns, with fewer outages and rates that are 18% lower than CMP and Versant, our two private utilities.
“Our electrical grid is the lifeline to a net-zero future,” said Berry, House chair of EUT. “Consumer ownership will be a game changer for Maine. While I’m pleased that this crucial due diligence will likely continue, I admit that I am also impatient to make this change as soon as possible. Now more than ever, our economy demands that we do things with thrift, ingenuity and a fresh look at local solutions that can lift all boats.”
This week Berry also announced amendments to his original version of LD 1646, which included the direct election of most board members of the proposed Maine Power Delivery Authority.
“Consumer-owned utilities are proven, including here in Maine, and they will give us just what we need at this time: lower cost capital and local control,” said Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, a cosponsor of the bill who also serves on EUT. “We can’t afford to miss this opportunity. In a pandemic, where the economic burden is worse every day, it is more important that we spend our money wisely, not less so.”
The amendment advanced by the committee has multiple parts, including the establishment of the Consumer Ownership Evaluation Task Force, which will be responsible for creating the state’s transition plan to Maine Power, developing a business plan and conducting due diligence studies. The amendment also authorizes the Efficiency Maine Trust to acquire power generation assets and directs the Maine Public Utilities Commission to gather additional information on financial aspects of the transition.
Should the eventual transition move forward, the Maine Power Delivery Authority (Maine Power) would replace Central Maine Power Company and Emera Maine, operating much like Maine’s existing consumer-owned utilities (COUs), such as Kennebunk Light and Power, Madison Electric Works and Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative.
As Maine looks to decarbonize, experts point to the electrical grid as the foundation of our future energy needs. Proponents of Maine Power argue that our current grid does not provide the reliable and affordable foundation we need. Unlike CMP or Emera Maine, Maine Power would be responsible to Maine customers only. Like Maine’s existing COUs, Maine Power would not use tax dollars, but would be financed by utility rates. Consumer-owned power is not a new idea. It exists in 49 of the 50 states, serving 30% of U.S. residents, and is more common in other developed nations.
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.
Grohoski, who is serving her first term in the Maine House, represents the towns of Ellsworth and Trenton.