The governor calls the performance of Maine's electric utilities 'abysmal' but says the bill to form a consumer-owned utility was 'hastily drafted' could create more problems than it solves.
Supporters already have begun laying the groundwork for a separate, statewide referendum on whether to force Central Maine Power and Versant Power to sell their assets to a new Pine Tree Power Co.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Democratic Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, said he was disappointed by the veto following years of work by legislators, energy and utility experts, and others to craft the bill. Backers had picked up additional support by giving Maine voters the final say this fall on whether to create a consumer-owned utility and requiring Pine Tree Power to still pay local property taxes.
But Berry said he would be “very shocked” if supporters can muster the two-thirds majorities needed to override Mills’ veto next week
“The governor today chose not to trust the people on this important decision, but the majority of the Legislature does trust the people and wants the people to weigh in,” Berry told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Those changes were not enough to convince Mills, whose administration has been voicing concerns about the bill for weeks.
Proponents also said a consumer-owned utility would be better positioned – and more responsive – to implement the grid-scale changes needed to help speed the state’s transition to more renewable energy as part of ambitious climate-related goals set by Mills and the Legislature.
Opponents, meanwhile, warned that the forced buyout could ultimately cost upward of $13 billion in acquisition and legal fees, thereby saddling ratepayers with massive amounts of debt with no guarantees of lower rates in the future. They also said the new utility’s 11-member board – seven of whom would be elected – could be more subject to political influence.
“Governor Mills listened to both sides, read the bill carefully, and came to the same conclusion that many of us have come to – the proposal to seize CMP and Versant Power to create a government-run electric utility raises a lot of questions that don’t have any good answers,” Willy Ritch, spokesman for the group Maine Affordable Energy, said in a statement. “The governor is not alone in seeing the fundamental flaws in this proposal. Labor unions, the business community, mayors from across the state, and former Public Utilities Commissioners all spoke out against this bill.”
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