An Emera Maine lineman at work. FILE PHOTO

Grohoski backs plan for consumer-owned electric utility



ELLSWORTH — State Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth) said she will co-sponsor legislation this session intended to replace Central Maine Power (CMP) and Emera Maine with a “consumer-owned utility.”

“This is an important initiative that I’m involved in to save consumers money, improve reliability and have more power over our energy future in Maine,” said Grohoski in an email.

The bill, introduced this session by Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), calls for the creation of a new, consumer-owned Maine Power Delivery Authority.

The plan would require CMP and Emera to sell all transmission and distribution assets to the new authority, which would be owned by customers and would not be a part of state government.

The authority, Berry said, would then “reduce rates by refinancing those assets,” according to a press release.

“Maine people want and deserve a utility that will keep the costs down and the lights on and put its Maine customers and workers first,” said Berry, the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

“Our current utilities have failed us in every respect, with the clear exception of our own consumer-owned utilities.”

A CMP spokeswoman told the Portland Press Herald that the company has “strong concerns about the state seizing private property,” and said that similar bills have been rejected by the Legislature in the past because of “the questionable benefits, but also because of constitutional issues.”

A spokeswoman from Emera declined to comment to the Press Herald on the specific legislation.

Berry told the Press Herald that his bill would guarantee that current CMP and Emera workers can keep their jobs under the consumer-owned utility structure, although the text of the bill is still being drafted.

The bill’s supporters say the new authority would purchase the companies’ assets using low-interest revenue bonds.

“Governor Mills shares the goal of reducing electricity costs for Maine people and businesses,” Mills spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said in a statement. “She believes that Maine’s utility providers should be more consistent in their delivery of services and more transparent in their billing practices. Her administration will review this bill and monitor its progress through the Legislature.”

According to the Maine Office of the Public Advocate, some customers of consumer-owned utilities do pay less. CMP customers paid 15.83 cents per kilowatt-hour for combined transmission and distribution while Emera customers in the Bangor Hydro district paid 19.27 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Ratepayers served by consumer-owned Kennebunk Power & Light, by comparison, paid 12.68 cents per kilowatt-hour while Houlton and Van Buren residents paid 9.53 cents and 8.96 cents per kilowatt-hour, respectively.

Consumer-owned, nonprofit utilities often have access to tax incentives, such as tax-exempt financing and exemption from federal income tax, that are not available to private companies.

According to the American Public Power Association, a little less than 30 percent of customers in the United States get their power from a nonprofit power association, either a co-op or consumer-owned utility.

Rates at public utilities are lower, on average, than investor-owned ones (11.5 cents per kilowatt hour compared to 13.2 cents, according to American Public Power).

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