Now is the time to hold Central Maine Power and Versant – Maine’s investor-owned utilities –accountable for poor performance, and it’s long past time to modernize our electrical grid to meet Maine’s climate and energy independence needs. Mainers are counting on their elected leaders to stand up for them as corporations fail to put the needs of customers first. Never has that been more clear than it is now, as people across Maine struggle with spiking energy costs.

Fortunately, Maine lawmakers have an opportunity to make progress on both fronts by passing an amended version of L.D. 1959, the governor’s utility accountability bill. I was pleased to introduce L.D. 1959 as the lead sponsor, and I knew that we could strengthen this bill through the legislative process to a point where it was deserving of strong support – and that’s exactly what has happened.

Maine people have every right to expect much better service than they’ve been getting in recent years. According to J.D. Power, CMP ranked dead last for customer service among the nation’s largest 145 electric utilities, and Versant tied for fourth worst with the notorious Pacific Gas & Electric. It’s unacceptable. Maine people deserve reliable service, accurate bills and utility companies that are supporting our clean-energy goals.

Personally, I support the concept of a consumer-owned utility and hope that Mainers get a chance to vote on a referendum to shift our investor-owned utilities to a consumer-owned model. But that’s a long-term solution. What lawmakers have before them now is a bill to provide accountability for utilities, starting immediately, regardless of who owns them.

L.D. 1959 sends a clear message to our utilities: Improve your performance, get fined or be replaced.

The amended bill requires the Public Utilities Commission to establish standards in critical areas, such as reliability and customer service. The bill sets mandatory financial penalties and doubles the penalties the PUC can impose, with forced sale as the ultimate penalty for a failing utility. The bill also expands and strengthens whistleblower protections. Maine’s Public Advocate has said that even one or two whistleblower reports could result in major benefits for Maine ratepayers.

The other big part of this bill involves integrated grid planning, which holds the potential to save ratepayers millions of dollars. Maine needs a holistic grid plan as we move to use more renewable and independent energy sources. A stakeholder group last year identified grid planning as a top priority. Right now, the utilities do grid planning on their own. This means utilities do all of their planning behind closed doors, with no public involvement and no mandate to consider what’s best for ratepayers. That has to end.

We know that planning matters. A pilot project in Boothbay is projected to save $18.7 million over a 10-year period. If similar planning were applied to CMP’s grid, it could save ratepayers nearly $1 billion over time.

L.D. 1959 has earned the support of groups including the Acadia Center, the Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Conservation Voters, The Nature Conservancy in Maine and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. The version of the bill coming before the Legislature is the product of hard work and thoughtful compromise. I am proud to sponsor this bill, and I’ll be just as proud to join my colleagues in voting for it in the Senate chamber.

With L.D. 1959, lawmakers have a chance to make significant progress in holding Maine’s utilities accountable and taking big strides in modernizing our electrical grid for the clean-energy future. We owe it to Maine ratepayers to act now.

Read the full article in the Portland Press Herald here.