Powering Strong Communities

Maine legislative committee advances bill that would create a consumer-owned utility

The Maine Legislature’s Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee on June 1 voted to advance a bill that would create a consumer-owned utility in the state called Pine Tree Power.

The vote on the bill, LD 1708, was 9-2, earning support from Republican and Democratic members. Two committee members were absent at the time of the vote. The next step for the legislation is a vote by the Maine Legislature.

The consumer-owned entity that would be created under the bill would take over the electric service now provided by Central Maine Power and Versant Power. Central Maine Power Company and Versant Power (formerly known as Emera Maine), are majority owned by Iberdrola of Spain and Emera of Canada, respectively.

Ursula Schryver, Vice President, Strategic Member Engagement and Education, at the American Public Power Association (APPA) recently appeared before a hearing held by Maine state lawmakers related to the bill.

She noted that there has been an increase in the number of communities exploring the public power option, a trend that has been driven by a number of factors including reliability, the desire for renewable energy options and increased economic development. Schryver, who made her comments at a May 20 hearing held by the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee, also detailed the resources that APPA offers when it comes to municipalization.

At the hearing, Schryver noted that her comments were neither for or against the legislation “primarily because APPA doesn’t weigh in on decisions made by individual communities.” APPA, she noted, serves as a resource and APPA believes that every community needs to make a decision that is right for itself.

Poll finds strong support for the creation of a consumer-owned utility in Maine

Meanwhile, newly conducted public opinion polling shows that 75% of registered voters from across the state of Maine say they support the idea of replacing Central Maine Power and Versant with a local non-profit consumer-owned utility, according to research conducted by SurveyUSA.

According to SurveyUSA, 38% strongly support the idea; 37% say they somewhat support. Just 10% are opposed to the idea, while 7% somewhat oppose and 3% strongly oppose.

The research was conducted by SurveyUSA for a group called Our Power, which supports the creation of a consumer-owned utility in the state.

Support is strongest among 35-to-49-year-olds (85%). Support is higher in urban parts of Maine (81%) than in suburban (72%) or rural (62%) portions of the state. Even among those rural Maine residents with 62% support, the lowest support for the idea among any subgroup, 28% strongly support and 34% somewhat support the idea of creating a consumer-owned utility.

According to the poll, 82% of Versant customers and 74% of Central Maine Power customers say they support the idea.

“Opposition to the concept, while weak in general, does have a significant correlation with both age and with ideology,” SurveyUSA said. While just 4% of those under age 50 are opposed, 14% of those 50+ are opposed, and opposition among conservatives, at 16%, is notably higher than among moderates (6%) or liberals (5%).

SurveyUSA said that a few of the major reasons Maine residents may be so strongly supportive of the consumer-owned utility concept are:

  • 99% of registered voters say reliability is an important factor when it comes to their electrical utility (92% say it is very important; 7% say it is somewhat important). Most important in rural Maine (where 99% say it is very important) and among those aged 50+; least important, though with 82% still saying it is “very important,” among the youngest voters;
  • 98% say cost is an important factor (81% say it is very important; 17% say somewhat important). Very important to 87% of those with high school educations and to 85% of those identifying as very conservative, among political independents, and those aged 50+. Six percentage points more important to Versant customers than to CMP customers; and
  • 84% say local control is an important factor (43% say it is very important; 41% say it is somewhat important.) Just 12% find it unimportant: 11% say it isn’t very important, and 1% say it isn’t important at all. Voters identifying as “very conservative” are significantly more likely than others to say local control is very important.