Holding Public Utilities Accountable
Today Maine’s Governor Janet Mills announced the Utility Accountability Bill, the Governor’s initiative authorizing the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to set minimum service standards to ensure electricity consumers receive adequate service at just and reasonable rates.
If the state is going to transform buildings, transportation, and the electricity grid to better serve Maine’s energy consumers and respond to the climate crisis, it needs to start with utility regulatory reforms that give the PUC the tools to regulate utilities with Maine people in mind. Acadia Center commends Governor Mills for taking these necessary steps to best leverage ratepayer dollars to ensure reliability and affordability while simultaneously planning across all state agencies for climate and equity benefits for all Mainers.
If our electric utilities fail consistently on any of the standards, they will face financial penalties. By establishing a “report card” on utilities’ performance, with repercussions for poor performance, we expect to see demonstrable improvements on reliability, bill accuracy, storm recovery, and renewable interconnection issues, all problems that have plagued Central Maine Power (CMP) and placed them dead last on national utility customer satisfaction lists. In addition to its audit, climate adaptation, and whistleblower provisions, the bill provides more direction on options available if utilities are not fit to serve Maine’s consumers.
Further, Maine’s investor-owned utilities have a monopoly franchise, and often charge ratepayers at returns that far exceed interest rates while building bigger projects that may not benefit energy consumers accordingly. While Acadia Center thinks utility regulatory reform can go further to relieve energy burdens on underserved and overburdened consumers, the Governor’s bill is a good first step in holding CMP and Versant Power accountable for their performance on affordability and reliability.
Acadia Center supports the Governor’s utility regulation bill and urges the Governor and Legislature to make deeper reforms to ensure utilities serve energy consumers in the transition to a clean energy economy – what we call RESPECT (Reforming Energy System Planning for Equity and Climate Transformation). These two significant reforms in utility planning will overcome the dysfunctions caused by siloed decision-making, unbalanced utility incentives, and the current market indifference to climate and equity:
- Conduct “all-in” energy system planning that considers supply and demand-side resources; customers’ energy, capacity, and thermal needs; and climate requirements and environmental justice impacts for all fuels across the state.
- Create a statewide planning entity that can look for solutions beyond utility boundaries and across fuels, leaving traditional utilities free to focus their efforts on business development in alignment with climate and equity mandates.
RESPECT proposes a modernized framework for how utilities make investments and decisions, so that we can build the energy systems necessary at the speed required to address the climate crisis. RESPECT addresses three problems with current planning and regulatory oversight: (1) planning is siloed between electric and gas utilities, which causes overspending, reduced reliability and resilience, and more climate pollution; (2) current planning processes ignore equity and environmental justice; and (3) utilities will not plan against their financial interests, even with performance incentives.
Until these reforms are in place, we believe the Governor’s bill is a powerful opening shot to create greater accountability of transmission and distribution utilities to Maine ratepayers and resolve performance issues that are not improving under current law and regulation.
For more information:
Maine Director & Senior Policy Advocate