Maine Gov. Janet Mills on July 13 vetoed a bill that called for the creation of a consumer-owned utility in the state called Pine Tree Power.
The consumer-owned entity that would be created under the bill would take over the electric service now provided by investor-owned Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant Power. CMP and Versant Power (formerly known as Emera Maine), are majority owned by Iberdrola of Spain and Emera of Canada, respectively.
The bill called for placing the question of consumer ownership of Maine’s grid on the ballot in November 2021.
Unless the Legislature is able to override the governor’s veto by two-thirds supermajorities in both the House and the Senate, the question of consumer ownership of Maine’s two investor-owned utilities, CMP and Versant, will not be on this year’s ballot.
The Legislature will reconvene on July 19 to vote on the veto, and on all other vetoes Mills has issued since July 1.
In her veto message, the governor said the performance of the state’s investor-owned utilities in recent years “has been abysmal,” citing “inexcusable billing errors, unacceptable delays in restoration of service, inexplicable confusion over the costs of connecting new solar projects to the grid, substantial rate increases, and now a draft audit report that questions Central Maine Power’s management structure.”
The Maine Public Utilities Commission on July 13 received the results of an independent audit of the management structure of CMP and its affiliated service companies, Avangrid Management Company and Avangrid Services Company. The Commission ordered the audit in January 2020 at the conclusion of an investigation into CMP's rates.
Mills said that it “may well be that the time has come for the people of the State of Maine to retake control over the [utilities’] assets,” but she raised several outstanding concerns about the substance of the bill.
The Maine Legislature on June 30 voted in favor of the bill, casting a bipartisan 77-68 vote in the House to attach an amendment to the bill that they supported two weeks ago. The Maine Senate voted 18-15 to support the new package.
An amendment introduced June 30 revised the bill to require the Pine Tree Power Company to pay property taxes directly to Maine municipalities, while maintaining its nonprofit status. This replaced previous bill language requiring payments in lieu of taxes.
Maine Rep. Seth Berry, sponsor of L.D. 1708, said the amendment spoke directly to the top two concerns of Mills, and concerns voiced by some municipal leaders. “We are pleased that the revised language won back the support needed to send this to Governor Mills, and hope to win her support for our effort as well,” he said in a statement.
Berry discussed the legislation in a recent episode of the American Public Power Association’s Public Power Now podcast.
Stephanie Clifford, campaign manager for Our Power, a group that supports the creation of a consumer-owned utility in the state, previously said that if Mills vetoed the bill, “we will continue our campaign through a citizens’ initiative.”
She said that petition gathering on such a citizen-initiated referendum would begin this summer and would likely put the question on the ballot in November 2022, the same day that Mills and all legislators are up for re-election.
After the news broke that Mills had vetoed the bill, Our Power tweeted that “we'll take the proposal to replace CMP/Versant with Maine's own consumer-owned utility directly to the voters.”