AUGUSTA — A legislative committee endorsed Tennessee economist Bruce Williamson’s nomination to the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, a week after Democrats delayed a vote amid concerns that Gov. Paul LePage was exerting political influence on the commission.

Members of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee voted 11-2 – with two Democrats dissenting – to recommend Williamson to the full Senate. If confirmed, Williamson will replace outgoing Commissioner David Littell and join two other LePage appointees on the three-person commission, which regulates electricity, gas, water and telephone utilities in the state.

Williamson is the senior economist at the Institute for Nuclear Security at the University of Tennessee’s Howard Baker Center for Public Policy. The nominee has said he has long had an interest in energy policy in New England.

Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, said she was impressed with Williamson’s record as an economist and by his comments during the panel’s nomination hearing last week.

“I think he will be a wonderful nominee and someone that we can always count on to do a good job and always do the right thing,” O’Connor said.

The nomination coincides with heightened scrutiny of the PUC, a quasi-judicial regulatory commission that normally attracts little attention despite its impact on the wallets of Mainers and the bank accounts of energy-intensive businesses in the state.


Last week, the committee’s seven Democrats outnumbered the six Republicans to delay a vote on Williamson over what committee co-chairman Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, referred to as a “crisis of confidence” in the commission. Dion and other Democrats are concerned about two recent PUC decisions led by LePage’s two appointees.

In the first, commissioners Mark Vannoy and Carlisle McLean voted to reopen two already-negotiated long-term contracts governing the purchase of electricity from wind power projects. LePage has been openly critical of Maine’s growing wind power sector andsent a letter in December asking the PUC to take another look at the contracts.

Then, McLean and Vannoy voted – with Littell again dissenting – against interpreting a 2013 energy law the way the Legislature had intended, which resulted in a $38 million cut in potential funding for an Efficiency Maine program. The commission’s interpretation was based on what all sides acknowledge was a one-word typographical error in the law.

Dion argued Thursday that the one-week delay was helpful because it allowed the Democratic caucus to engage in “healthy conversation” about the independence of the PUC and the relationship between the commission and the Legislature. Dion also said that Williamson pledged to follow the law and ensure the spirit of the law is sustained if he joins the PUC.

State Sen. Dawn Hill, D- York, and Rep. Deane Rykerson, D- Kittery, voted against endorsing the nomination.


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