Governor Mills Urges Legislature to Further Consider Consumer Owned Utility

Governor Janet Mills today vetoed LD 1708, An Act to Create the Pine Tree Power Company. In her veto message, the Governor called the recent performance of Maine’s utilities “abysmal” and said that “it may well be that the time has come for the people of the State of Maine to retake control over the [utilities’] assets”, but she raised several outstanding concerns about the substance of the bill, noting that those concerns combined with a rushed legislative process could create more problems than the bill solves.

Given the far-reaching implications of the proposal on every Maine citizen, the Governor urged the Legislature to slow down, further consider the impacts of such a measure, and address outstanding concerns through a robust public process.

“It may well be that the time has come for the people of the State of Maine to retake control over the assets on which they depend for the lifeblood of our communities, that is, our electric transmission and distribution services. And there may be a way to create a utility with a professional governing board that is clearly eligible to issue low-interest, tax-exempt bonds that would save ratepayers money, achieve better connectivity with solar and other renewables, and further the climate goals of this Administration,” wrote Governor Mills. “But L.D. 1708, hastily drafted and hastily amended in recent weeks without robust public participation, is a patchwork of political promises rather than a methodical reformation of Maine’s complicated electrical transmission and distribution system.”

In her veto message, the Governor raised substantive concerns about the bill, including its governance structure, financing mechanisms, wording of the ballot measure, potential for protracted litigation, the manner in which the new authority would be regulated, and likely delays in the attainment of the State’s climate goals.

She noted the rushed nature of the legislative process, including last-minute amendments that did not undergo a thorough vetting through the Legislature that allowed for robust public input and feedback.

She also noted that businesses, various organizations, and community leaders across Maine have expressed concerns about the proposal. Bath Iron Works, one of the state’s largest employers, opposes the bill, along with IBEW Local 567, an electrical union. Mayors from seven Maine communities – Auburn, Lewiston, Augusta, Saco, Biddeford, Westbrook, and Gardiner – all also oppose the bill.

“LD 1708 represents one of the most significant, costly, and risky pieces of legislation that the Maine Legislature has ever considered, and the decision to move forward should only be done with a full understanding of these risks,” said Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer. “Rushing such a monumental bill through that this time, with limited public debate, would be unwise.”

“LD 1708 poses a significant risk to Maine municipalities and local taxpayers, and the last-minute effort to amend this rushed legislation in an effort to address our concerns did nothing to lessen the risk to Maine people,” said Westbrook Mayor Michael Foley. “Many municipal leaders remain concerned the promise to pay property taxes could be eliminated, leaving local taxpayers to make up the difference with tax increases or budget cuts. That is a risk we are simply not willing to take, nor can we ask our constituents to take this risk.”

“I want to thank Governor Mills for her veto of L.D. 1708,” said Michael P. Monahan, International Vice President, IBEW Second District. “This bill would have created a government-controlled utility that would have put the retirement benefits of our members at risk, threaten their collective bargaining position by making them state employees and likely lead to less investment in the grid. We know how carefully the Governor read this bill and listened to both sides and, in the end, she made the right decision.”

"I applaud Governor Mills for showing the courage to veto this ill-conceived legislation which, if it became law, would set back Maine’s work on climate change, trigger many years of costly litigation, and almost certainly result in higher costs to Maine's electricity customers,” said Thomas Welch, former Chair of the PUC. “The Public Utilities Commission, under the able leadership of Chairman Bartlett, has already shown a willingness to use the extensive powers granted it over Maine's investor-owned utilities by the legislature to address the issues raised by proponents of the government takeover. Governor Mills' veto will allow the PUC to do its job without the distractions, inevitable uncertainty, and risk to the investment needed to advance Maine's energy goals that LD 1708 would bring.”

“The Maine State Chamber of Commerce would like to thank Governor Mills for vetoing LD 1708,” said Dana Connors, President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “As our economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, stability and predictability are needed now more than ever. And decisions that have such a large consequence for every citizen of Maine, should not be decided by one sentence on the ballot and 30 second sound bites, such significant policy decisions should be vetted thoroughly by the legislature. Thanks again to Governor Mills for vetoing what surely would have been a misstep for the State of Maine.”

The Governor’s complete veto message is attached (PDF).

Additionally, Governor Mills announced today she has signed the following bills into law:

In addition to LD 1708, Governor Mills also vetoed the following bills:

The Governor has taken action on all bills enacted by the Legislature thus far this session. During the 130th Legislature, a total of 1,734 have been printed to date, and 635 of those have been enacted during the 1st Regular and 1st Special Session. Governor Mills has signed 491 bills into law and vetoed 21 bills thus far.