BANGOR — A union representing Emera Maine workers is expressing concerns about the company’s proposed buyer at a time when lawmakers created a new standard for the sale of public utilities.

ENMAX, an electric utility in western Canada, cut its workforce by 4.5 percent this year and is planning to use debt to finance the $1.3 billion purchase of Emera Maine, which serves 160,000 homes and businesses across eastern and northern Maine.

Emera Maine’s current workforce cannot endure further cuts, Dick Rogers, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1837, told the Bangor Daily News.

But ENMAX contends there will be no job cuts or rate increases.

“There are absolutely no anticipated job cuts. That is not part of this transaction,” ENMAX spokeswoman Diana Stephenson said. “The other commitment that we’ve made is rate stability. Rates would not be going up as a result of this transaction.”

The deal will have to clear a higher standard under the new law.

The bill signed into law in June by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills requires that the sale provide a net benefit for ratepayers to win approval from the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The old law required only that the deal not harm ratepayers.

“Practically, it raises the bar,” said Barry Hobbins, Maine’s public advocate who represents ratepayers’ interests. “The burden is much higher.”

ENMAX has more than 900,000 customers in Alberta, Canada, but is less than a sixth the size of Emera Maine’s current parent company, Nova Scotia-based Emera Inc., as measured by total assets.

Despite Emera Inc.’s resources, Emera Maine finished last in residential customer satisfaction among other midsized utilities in the eastern U.S. for the past two years, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

“If Emera couldn’t succeed without raising rates, how is ENMAX, a small utility owned by the city of Calgary, going to do it without raising prices and slashing jobs?” said Renee Gilman, an Emera Maine customer service employee and union member.

Philip Bartlett, the utilities commission’s chairman, said the commission “will be taking a very close look at every part of the transaction and the ability of ENMAX to serve Maine people and make sure that this is a good deal for the consumer.”

 


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