The landslide rejection in November of a proposed transmission line across western Maine can be seen as a vote of no confidence in Central Maine Power and its corporate parent, Iberdrola, which was behind the project.

But the public’s distrust didn’t stop there. Voting to kill the power line was also a vote against the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which regulates CMP and had permitted the project.

With another referendum campaign in the works – this time, to force CMP and Versant Power to sell their Maine assets to a consumer-owned utility – Gov. Mills is proposing a bill that would beef up the PUC’s regulation of for-profit monopolies.

If this is a plan to rescue CMP, the utility’s supporters don’t have much time.

The group, Our Power, missed the deadline to get their question on the 2022 ballot, but they say they are still on track for 2023. The company has less than two years to demonstrate improved performance before voters go to the polls.

But if the goal is restoring confidence in the PUC, the law can’t go into effect fast enough. Utility regulation is complex and opaque to most consumers. People need to know that regulators are on their side and making decisions that favor the public interest and not the companies.


As Maine enters the fight against climate change, we need electric utilities operating at a high level and regulators who have the public’s confidence. We won’t be able to make the necessary changes to the way we generate power and how it’s distributed with utilities and regulators that have lost our trust.

According to a draft of the legislation, the proposed law would require the PUC to establish a quarterly performance report card for the electric utilities, grading the companies on reliability of service, restoring power after storms, handling of customer complaints and bringing new generators like solar farms onto the grid.

Two bad report cards in a row could trigger fines of up to $1 million or 10 percent of annual revenue. The law would set up a formal process through which the PUC could force the sale of an underperforming utility,  potentially to a consumer-owned company.

The bill has not been submitted yet, and there are likely details that need to be hammered out. Once it is in, legislators should make sure that the standards are strict enough to hold the companies accountable. If they are not, we will face more wasted years of paying too much for bad service while failing to meet the challenges of decarbonization.

Meanwhile, the activists who support a consumer-owned utility should keep pushing. We would probably not even have seen this proposal to beef up utility regulation if it were not for the prospect of another referendum. The pressure applied by Our Power should make the governor’s oversight plan as good as it can be.

The only way that this regulatory plan could derail progress toward Our Power’s goals of lower rates, better service and investment in infrastructure is if CMP and Versant rapidly changed the way they operate. That won’t be easy and it may be impossible, but seeing what they are capable of is better than waiting until the 2023 election to take action.

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