Rep. Geiger introduces bill related to consumer-owned utility initiative

Mon, 03/13/2023 - 2:15pm

    AUGUSTA — Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland, recently introduced a bill to help ensure that savings generated in the event that Mainers approve a measure to establish a large consumer-owned utility (COU) would be passed on to ratepayers, a press release stated. 

    For several years, Mainers have considered the question of transitioning from an investor-owned utility model, like the one Maine’s largest electricity utilities currently utilize, to a COU model, according to the release. 

    These considerations have taken the form of legislation introduced and currently before the Legislature as well as through a proposed ballot initiative that the Legislature can approve directly or send to the public to vote on directly.

    LD 699, would establish protections for ratepayers by setting certain standards that a large COU (over 50,000 customers) must meet before entering into a contract with a third-party to provide the COU with operations, maintenance, customer account management or customer service for the utility.

    This will ensure that savings derived from a conversion to a COU are passed on to ratepayers and not taken by third-party contractors, the release noted. The Public Utilities Commission could only approve a contract after the COU demonstrated that those standards had been met and that the savings are being passed on to ratepayers.

    “As we continue to see electricity rates increase and frustration with our current utility options escalate, Mainers are eagerly looking for solutions, and I believe that a consumer-owned utility is the right tool to address these issues,” said Geiger. “That’s why I am so happy to introduce this bill, strongly supported by consumer-owned utility advocates, which would provide Maine people with a safeguard against the perceived risks associated with replacing an investor-owned utility with a COU.”

    The proposal specifies that contracts with a third-party to provide operations, maintenance, customer account management or customer service worth over $10 million per year must reduce rates for customers by at least 10% for the first two years of the contract and be reasonably expected to improve reliability and service for customers throughout the life of the contract.

    The proposal also prohibits state and local tax dollars from being used to cover any of the utility’s expenses after the start date of the initial contract.

    The Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will hold a work session on the proposal in the coming weeks.

    Geiger is serving her second term in the Maine House and represents District 42 which includes Rockland, Owls Head, North Haven and part of Matinicus Isle. She is a member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and the Labor and Housing Committee.