Proposal to replace Maine power companies moves ahead

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A proposal to replace power companies in Maine with a consumer-owned utility is moving forward in the Maine Legislature.

Critics of the two biggest power companies in the state, Versant and Central Maine Power, want to replace the companies with a new utility called Pine Tree Power Company.

The Maine Senate voted 19-16 in favor of the bill on Wednesday, a day after the House gave its approval. More votes are necessary.

The proposal would ultimately allow residents of the state to vote on whether they want to create the new nonprofit utility. Supporters of the move have said they were motivated to propose it by high power costs and frequent outages.

Democratic Rep. Seth Berry said the approval in the House means “Maine ratepayers are one step closer to more affordable, more reliable, cleaner and Maine-operated power.”

The power companies have pushed back at the proposal. Versant’s president, John Flynn, has said the change would have consequences, such as disrupting the utility’s fight against climate change.

The proposal would need the backing of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who has expressed skepticism of the proposal but hasn’t said whether she would veto the bill.

She said during a breakfast at the Greater Portland Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that she had several concerns including towns losing property tax revenue.

“As the committee said last August, this idea requires a lot more research, a lot more thought,” she said, referring to a legislative panel’s earlier proposal for a study commission to look at the idea.