November 10, 2019
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Maine’s case for a public utility

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham.

Criticisms of rates, bills, customer service and renewable energy policies are behind Maine legislators’ proposal to create the Maine Power Delivery Authority, a consumer-owned transmission and distribution company.

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, co-chair of the Legislature’s energy committee, and others contend that the profits of CMP and Emera don’t stay in Maine. Both companies are owned by foreign parents that are publicly traded.

CMP is owned by Avangrid of Orange, Connecticut. Avangrid in turn is majority owned by Iberdrola, a Spanish company.

Emera Maine is owned by Emera Inc. of Nova Scotia, though it is in the process of being sold to privately held ENMAX Corp. of Calgary. On its website, ENMAX says it is a wholly owned subsidiary of the city of Calgary, and that Calgary’s City Council is its sole shareholder on behalf of all Calgary residents.

During a May 14 energy committee hearing about the bill, proponents and opponents pointed to Nebraska as a case study of what to do to set up public power and, in the case of that state’s large number of coal-fired electricity generation plants, what not to do in Maine.

At that hearing, the former heads of two independent Maine utilities spoke for and against the proposed plan, and reflected many of the comments others made at the meeting.

John Clark, the former general manager of Houlton Water Co., a consumer-owned electric, water and sewer utility run by a six-member board elected by the citizens of Houlton, supported the proposal to create the Maine Power Delivery Authority.

“I passionately believe that the consumer-owned business model can bring many advantages to the utility industry,” he said in his testimony. “Some of those advantages include the lower cost of borrowing and no requirement for stockholder dividend payments. Pluses aside, our most important asset is having only customers to answer to and satisfy.”

Clark answered some who questioned whether consumers have enough knowledge to run utilities.

“There are people in consumer power who have expertise,” he said.

However, Jeffrey Ellison, former general manager of the Swans Island Electric Cooperative, said the new utility is a bad idea. The Swans Island Electric Cooperative sold all of its assets to Emera Maine in 2017.

Ellison said managing the utility’s business, repairs, bucket trucks, OSHA and PUC reporting, and the necessary replacement of a line to the mainland was overwhelming and caused the consumer-owned company to sell to Emera Maine.

He said electric rates on the island under Emera Maine have been halved.

“For the state of Maine, I also believe that keeping our primary electric grid in the hands of private businesses is smart given their access to capital and ability to innovate and achieve efficiencies,” he said in his testimony. “I do not believe that having our critical electric system operated by the state will benefit us.”



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