Community Engagement

Maine law directs PUC to evaluate public power authority

Maine Gov. Janet Mills earlier this month signed legislation directing the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to evaluate the creation of a consumer-owned electric utility that would take over the functions of the state’s existing investor-owned utilities.

The law, LD 1844, is an effort to move forward a bill that would create a public power authority in Maine. That effort began earlier this year when state Representative Seth Berry, a Democrat, proposed LD 1646, which was framed as an effort to restore local control of utility assets, retain utility profits in state, and counter rising utility rates.

Maine’s two IOUs, Central Maine Power and Emera Maine are majority owned by Iberdrola of Spain and Emera of Canada, respectively.

Berry’s bill would create the Maine Power Delivery Authority that would buy Central Maine Power’s and Emera Maine’s transmission and distribution assets using revenue bonds.

In June, the legislature’s Energy Committee held a work session and voted to table LD 1646 until its next work session and discussed the possibility of forming a task force to study the issues the bill raises. Berry is seeking to hold a vote on his bill by January.

Meanwhile, Berry proposed LD 1844, crafted as an emergency bill, to speed the process of moving LD 1646 forward. Now that LD 1844 has been signed by the governor, the PUC is charged with completing the evaluation by Feb. 15, 2020.

Under the law, the evaluation must include an analysis of the costs and benefits of replacing the IOUs with a public power authority, an examination of the legal regulatory, technical, financial and operational issues related to the proposal, an assessment of anticipated impacts on electricity rates and utility employees and ratepayers, and development of alternatives or amendments to the proposal to address any identified obstacles.

The law directs the PUC to contract with an independent consultant to assist in its evaluation. Funding for the study will come from the PUC’s reimbursement funds, primarily from fines from its Dig Safe program.