May 20, 2018
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Millinocket seeks advice on creating electric utility

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town officials will visit public utilities in Houlton and Van Buren and seek expert advice on how to achieve an ambitious goal — the creation of a public electric utility.

Town Manager Eugene Conlogue will start looking for an expert to assist him in creating a criteria by which the town could hire an adviser to provide explicit instructions on how to create a utility. The criteria could be ready in a month, he said Friday. Expert advice in writing the request for proposals is needed.

“We need guidance, every one of us,” Councilor Scott Gonya said during a council meeting Thursday.

No one should expect the utility, and the lower electrical rates it promises to bring, to arrive anytime soon, Town Councilor Michael Madore said during the meeting.

“This is still going to be a very long process. It isn’t something that’s going to be done in weeks or months, if we can bring this to fruition,” Madore said. “It is going to take some time. We are willing to put the time in so I ask that you be patient with us while we do that.”

Given the Katahdin region’s need for greater industry and employment opportunities and the enticement provided by the lower electricity rates that public utilities generally charge, the council agreed to study the issue in November, at Gonya’s suggestion.

Millinocket already has hydropower dams and generation lines, and the proliferation of wind farms around the state is another factor. Lincoln officials also are informally discussing formation of a public electric utility.

Several councilors visited a public utility, Madison Electric Works, and Backyard Farms of Madison on Wednesday. The utility offers electricity at 13 cents a kilowatt-hour, among Maine’s lowest rates, which drew Backyard to move there.

Councilors said they would love to see low electricity rates entice a company like Backyard to Millinocket. Backyard employs 130 full-time workers at its 27-acre greenhouse, the largest building in New England. The company is building a second, 19-acre greenhouse for spring that will put about 175 workers on the its payroll.

“One of the things that really impressed me [about Madison Electric]: They can also generate power, which is something that most public utilities cannot do,” Conlogue said during the meeting. “There were a lot of other good pieces of information.”

Councilors agreed that paying a consultant would be worthwhile. No prices or dates of visitation have been set.

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