Our take: Governor Mills’ veto will not end the debate on public power

Maine’s two investor-owned utilities got what they wanted on Tuesday when Gov. Mills vetoed a bill that would have opened the door to their takeover by a consumer-owned power company .

But the way Central Maine Power and Versant Power won this round shouldn’t leave them feeling very secure.

The bill, LD 1708, which had been passed by the House and Senate, would have asked voters in Maine in a referendum whether they wanted to force CMP and Versant to sell their assets to a new non-profit entity. and to operate the electricity grid for the public good.

But the veto may offer only a temporary reprieve, as supporters of the bill are confident they can get the necessary signatures to bring the issue to voters anyway. That doesn’t leave much time for companies to prove they can improve their performance before tired Maine consumers head to the polls. Regulators will also need to act quickly if they want to show that they can protect the public interest before the public steps in.

A telling part of Mills’ veto message is that his objections to the legislation were more technical than substantive. She criticized the speed of the legislative process but made no attempt to defend the performance of companies.

Citing poor service, high prices and an inability to adapt to the expansion of solar power, Mills used terms that could easily be used in campaign ads in support of a takeover. public.

“The performance of our investor-owned utilities in recent years has been appalling,” she wrote. “We are well beyond the point of debating whether our utilities can do better. They can and they must.

What if they don’t do better? The governor also addressed him.

She noted that Maine law gives the Public Utilities Commission the power to sanction companies for poor performance. She stressed that she may even find them “unfit to provide safe, adequate and reliable service at fair and reasonable rates” and revoke their monopoly franchise.

The fact that this bill has reached Mills’ office should be a wake-up call to the PUC as much as to the companies regulated by the commission. Many consumers believe their interests are not adequately protected by regulators – which is why so many of their representatives in the Legislature have voted to take such big action as a public takeover of private companies. .

CMP is a small part of a global company based in Spain that supplies energy to 100 million people around the world. Versant is a branch of a large corporation wholly owned by the City of Calgary, Alberta. The Maine PUC is the only entity that should put the interests of Maine families and businesses first, but regulators have allowed CMP and Versant to provide some of the worst services in the country at some of its highest prices.

Mills’ veto may not be enough to rule out the question of who owns the power grid in 2022, but it should warn utilities and the PUC.

If companies and their regulators cannot demonstrate that they are capable of improving what Mills calls “abysmal” performance, this week’s victory will be short-lived.

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