Berry proposes ‘consumer-owned utility’ bill

Maine Power Delivery would replace CMP, Emera
Tue, 01/29/2019 - 5:15pm

Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), has proposed a bill to buy Central Maine Power and Emera using revenue bonds, creating the new entity “Maine Power Delivery,"owned by taxpayers and known as a “consumer-owned utility” or COU.

“We want a utility that will keep the costs down and the lights on and put its Maine customers and workers first,” said bill sponsor Rep. Seth Berry. “Our current utilities have failed us in every respect, with the clear exception of our consumer-owned utilities.” Maine has four COUs already ... in Kennebunk, Houlton, Calais, and Madison. Like the larger COUs in Nebraska, Long Island, and elsewhere, these utilities have consistently delivered power at lower rates and with fewer and shorter outages. COUs do not use tax dollars.

According to the American Public Power Association, one in seven Americans is served by a consumer-owned utility. On average, these customers pay 15 percent less and are without power less than half the time as customers of investor-owned utilities like CMP.  

Berry estimates Maine Power Delivery would reduce annual costs to Maine customers and businesses by as much as $325 million per year, or about 7-9  percent of the energy transmission and delivery portion of the consumer’s bill. The cost of the energy, which went up 15 percent under the standard offer on  Jan. 1, would not be impacted. The difference between what Maine Power Delivery would charge and what the current utilities charge is due to the rate structure set up to benefit shareholders of the for-profit utilities, Berry said. “It’s like refinancing a house at a lower interest rate,” Barry explained. “Right now we pay 10-12 percent to CMP’s overseas investors. Instead, we could pay 3 percent or so in interest and keep the difference in our pockets and our local economy.”

CMP is owned by Avangrid, a U.S. corporation which took control of the company following a merger of CMP’s parent company Iberdrola SA in 2016. Emera is owned by a Canadian energy company based in Nova Scotia.

Berry said most of CMP and Emera’s employees would be kept on to run the new system. He said the bill has bipartisan support in the Legislature.

CMP spokeswoman Catherine Hartnett said few details of Berry’s bill, currently in the legislative drafting office, have been released. She said the company has “strong concerns” about the state seizing private property, and noted that making the company a public entity had been floated more than once before, but had not gotten far because the legislature was concerned about constitutional issues.