Legislation aimed at holding Maine’s largest electric utilities accountable for poor performance took a big step forward today when the Maine State Senate voted 20-14 to approve an amended version of LD 1959, sponsored by Senator Stacy Brenner (D-Cumberland).
The landmark bill would create a system for evaluating performance of Maine’s utilities against specific metrics developed by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), with the prospect of financial penalties for poor performance and the possibility of being replaced for consistently failing to meet performance metrics. It also requires an “integrated grid planning” process to design a modern grid that will be powered by clean energy.
Maine’s leading environmental advocacy organization, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), applauded the Maine Senate for advancing the strongest possible version of the utility accountability bill, LD 1959 (Report A).
“This bill sends a strong message to Maine’s largest utilities that they need to perform, face penalties, or be replaced,” said Jack Shapiro, the Climate and Clean Energy Director at NRCM. “This bill also represents one of the most important climate bills this year because it will put into place a grid planning process to map out how we modernize our electrical grid for a very different energy future that will involve distributed clean power, battery storage, sophisticated energy efficiency strategies, and electrification of heating and transportation.”
The compromise bill incorporated feedback from a wide range of stakeholders and has earned broad support from Maine environmental organizations, including NRCM, Acadia Center, Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Conservation Voters, Union of Concerned Scientists, Maine Audubon, and the Nature Conservancy in Maine.
Maine’s largest utilities have been rated as among the nation’s worst performing utilities. At the present time, planning of the grid is done behind closed doors by the utilities instead of through a PUC-led process with deep engagement by stakeholders, energy experts, and state agencies.
“Maine’s investor-owned utilities received failing grades in recent years for their poor performance – this situation must end,” said Senator Brenner during the debate on the Senate floor. She continued: “Maine people deserve reliable service, accurate bills, timely customer service, and constructive involvement in achieving a clean energy future.”
“This bill will help us hold Maine’s utilities accountable for poor performance, and it will help us modernize the electrical grid in a way that could save tens of millions of dollars for Maine ratepayers,” said Senator Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) as the bill was being debated.
LD 1959 (Report A) includes two major provisions that were crafted to hold utilities accountable for delivering high-quality service to Maine people while helping accelerate the transition to clean, affordable energy sources:
- Clear and unambiguous standards for service, with mandatory financial penalties for poor performance that are twice the amount previously required.
- Require utilities to undergo a transparent and comprehensive planning process for developing an electric grid that supports clean energy and innovative strategies to optimize the electric system while delivering savings to customers.
The bill also includes a whistleblower provision that would empower employees at utilities to uncover wasteful and deceptive practices that could yield ratepayers additional savings.
The Maine House of Representatives is expected to vote later today or tomorrow on LD 1959, with lawmakers in a rush to adjourn within the next day or two.
For additional background read the recent blog from NRCM’s Jack Shapiro on what provisions make for a strong utility accountability bill.