Maine governor vetoes consumer-owned electric utility

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A invoice that that aimed to get rid of Maine’s privately owned electrical utilities by shopping for them out and changing them with a consumer-owned utility was vetoed Tuesday by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, doubtless spelling the top of the proposal this legislative session.

Mills acknowledged that efficiency of Central Maine Energy and Versant Energy has been “abysmal” however mentioned the proposal to ship them packing — with voters getting the ultimate say — was “deeply flawed” and “unexpectedly drafted and unexpectedly amended.”

“I definitely agree that change is critical. No query about that. And I stay open to contemplating different proposals,” she mentioned.

The invoice’s chief sponsor, Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, disputed the governor’s characterization of the proposal, arguing that it was totally vetted over the previous three years.

And it is not going away. A coalition might be launching a referendum drive to place the proposal earlier than voters anyway subsequent yr, as an alternative of this fall.

Supporters mentioned it’s time to exchange Central Maine Energy and Versant Energy, that are owned by firms in Spain and Canada, with an entity that works within the curiosity of Mainers as an alternative of shareholders.

The brand new entity, Pine Tree Energy, would maintain charges low, reply quicker to outages and assist clear power tasks, they mentioned.

Critics accused the invoice’s supporters of underestimating the price of shopping for the utility corporations and mentioned ratepayers can be saddled with billions of {dollars} of debt from the acquisition and litigation.

The invoice got here at a time of frustration with CMP, the state’s largest electrical utility, over a botched rollout of a billing system, sluggish response to storm harm and energy outages, and a controversial utility hall that will function a conduit for Canadian hydropower.

The invoice gained bipartisan assist within the Maine Legislature, however Berry acknowledged there’s little hope of reaching a two-thirds majority essential to override the governor’s veto.


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The veto got here a day after an impartial audit performed for the Maine Public Utilities Fee discovered that CMP is making enhancements and isn’t “irredeemably flawed.”

However the report additionally mentioned “it stays prudent to query the sustainability of the optimistic adjustments which have occurred.”

Berry mentioned “modest enhancements” cited within the report had been in response to the invoice that aimed to exchange the utilities, and that these enhancements will “go away as quickly as this invoice goes away.”

The veto was not a shock. Mills beforehand referred to as the proposal “a rosy answer to a really difficult sequence of issues.”

On Tuesday, she reiterated her issues concerning the invoice, calling it “a patchwork of political guarantees somewhat than a methodical reformation of Maine’s difficult electrical transmission and distribution system.”

She mentioned she had numerous issues together with who’d function the grid, the potential lack of property taxes for a number of communities, and the invoice’s language that might have an effect on the tax-exempt standing of bonds.

She mentioned she wasn’t closing the door on a takeover of the utilities however mentioned she needs extra effort and time to enter the vetting.

Within the meantime, she mentioned the state ought to step up its regulatory efforts by means of the Public Utilities Fee, take a look at performance-based incentives like these utilized in Hawaii and think about beefing up the state’s divestiture legislation.

William Dunn from Our Energy, which can lead the referendum drive to place the proposal earlier than voters subsequent yr, dismissed the concept that regulators can remedy the utilities’ issues.

“Maine regulators can not repair this downside any greater than a mouse can tame a cat,” Dunn mentioned.

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