Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, reacts to a vote at the State House in Augusta on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers advanced a new version of Gov. Janet Mills’ priority utility accountability bill on Wednesday, one day after a previous version failed due to division among Democrats in the House of Representatives.

The bill that passed the House 77-56 on Wednesday will allow the Maine Public Utilities Commission to set service standards for its major utilities, Central Maine Power Co. and Versant Power, and impose penalties if they fail to meet them. It also empowers the commission to work on reliability planning for the state’s power grid and reduce carbon emissions.

Mills put forward legislation earlier this year as a possible compromise between Central Maine Power Co., the embattled utility, and its harshest critics. An amended version of the bill passed the Maine Senate on Tuesday but was rejected by the House as both Republican lawmakers and Democrats who are among the fiercest CMP critics voted against it.

Democrats solved their split on Wednesday to vote for a revised version of the bill. The version that passed both chambers included additional provisions requiring the Public Utilities Commission to look into requiring utilities to use competitive bidding for certain projects and allowing it to audit utilities more frequently.

Among the holdouts on the measure on Tuesday were Reps. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, and Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth. Both have helped lead the public push for a consumer-owned utility in the Legislature. Proponents are now trying to put that issue before voters in a 2023 referendum. Both Berry and Grohoski voted for the latest version.

“This is not the bill I would have written but it is now a step forward,” said Berry, who co-chairs the energy committee and is perhaps Augusta’s most outspoken CMP critic.

Environmental groups that had slammed the Legislature’s failure to pass the bill on Tuesday praised the votes on Wednesday. Jeff Marks, senior policy advocate at the Acadia Center, characterized it as “the most impactful climate and clean energy bill” of the legislative session.