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Business and Economy

Proposed Consumer Buyout Of CMP, Versant Endorsed By Legislative Committee

Central Maine Power
Robert F. Bukaty
In this Tuesday, May 28, 2019 photo, power lines converge on a Central Maine Power substation in Pownal, Maine.

The Legislature’s committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology voted 9-2 on Tuesday in support of legislation to create a consumer-owned utility, Pine Tree Power, that would replace investor-owned Central Maine Power and Versant.

If approved by the full legislature, the measure would go to the voters at referendum in November.

The controversial proposal, which had a nine-hour public hearing before the committee, drew both strong support, and opposition. That tension was reflected in the committee’s debate over the bill. Democratic Rep. Scott Cuddy of Winterport supported the legislation.

“Electricity is a necessity of life and why we turn over that necessity to private industry has never made very good sense to me," Cuddy said,.

But opponents stressed that the two private utilities are not for sale and that Pine Tree Power would use the power of eminent domain to take over the assets of the companies through bonds sold in anticipation of future revenues.

Republican Rep. Steven Foster of Dexter says that's a problem.

“One of my primary concerns, though, is that this is definitely a government takeover of the currently private enterprise and I don’t know what is next," Foster said.

That concern was echoed by other Republicans, including Rep. Nathan Wadsworth of Hiram

“I can’t support a government takeover of, of power. These companies are privately owned. They are not up for sale and here we are, forcing them to sell," he said.

Supporters of the bill say the two utilities have not been good stewards of the state’s power distribution system and were given very low marks in a 2020 survey of customers conducted by J.D. Power.

CMP had the worst rating in the nation, and Versant the third worst. And Democratic Sen. Mark Lawrence of Eliot says the proposed consumer-owned utility will not be created unless the voters decide to authorize it at referendum.

“In the end, I can’t come up with an argument of why we should not let the voters decide if this is what they want to do," Lawrence says.

The proposal could be before the full legislature next week, after the committee completes a technical review of the language in the measure and its amendments.