Bowdoinham State Rep. Seth Berry told fellow Democrats in Rockport Thursday night, April 4, that creating a consumer-owned utility that would take over CMP's delivery and transmission monopoly could lower rates by 15 percent and double reliability.

"What I propose for Maine is, we take our power back," he said.

About 75 people packed the meeting room at the Rockport Opera House for a meeting of the Knox County Democrats to hear his proposal.

Berry has been working on a bill to create the Maine Power Delivery Authority, which would be a consumer-owned utility, replacing CMP and Emera Maine, run by a board of directors nominated by the governor with staggered six-year terms.

Currently, CMP owns the power lines and distribution and has to provide profits for its investors, including foreign entities based in Spain. Eliminating those investors from the equation will reduce rates, he said.

"We need to control our power from Maine, not Spain," he said.

Transmission and distribution has to be a monopoly to avoid having competing sets of power lines running through our communities, but power generation is a free and competitive market.

Berry argued that while to some this sounds like socialism, it would actually increase free market competition, saying that CMP currently fights some power generation options and favors those with which it is affiliated. In addition, it resists solar and other renewable projects to maintain its profits. He said that a consumer-owned utility would have no incentive to resist people's putting up solar panels and wind turbines and other renewable energy sources, since its only goal would be to serve the people of Maine.

He noted that CMP is strongly opposed to this project and has many lobbyists working against it in Augusta.

If the bill passes, CMP and Emera Maine would be compensated, and he estimated their value at $3.2 billion for CMP and $1.2 billion for Emera. He expects them to fight for more than Maine Power will offer, arguing that they should to be compensated for lost profits. The bill specifies the issue should go to the Maine Law Court to be decided, and if it remains tied up for too long, the state could take the assets of CMP and Emera Maine through eminent domain, which, he adds, CMP uses all the time.

"I believe we need to control our energy destiny," he said.

This is not a new concept. He said across the country, one in sevencustomers are served by consumer-owned utilities. Several areas in Maine are served by smaller consumer-owned providers.

Another difference with his plan is that the Maine Power Delivery Authority would have public board meetings and be subject to Freedom of Access, to provide more transparency and a voice for Maine power customers. Currently, the private CMP can conduct its board meetings in Spain in secrecy.

Berry was highly critical of CMP, noting problems with smart meters and numerous billing complaints. He said the company has cut corners, squeezed Maine ratepayers and is understaffed to the point of creating safety concerns, all because of the need to make a profit for investors.

Asked how such a massive purchase price could reduce rates, Berry compared it to refinancing one's house at a lower rate. He sees the purchase being paid back over a 30-year period. Information provided at the meeting states the purchase would not be financed by tax dollars in any way.

"Maine Power would remain entirely separate from the state budget," Berry said later in an email. "It would however make payments in lieu of taxes to municipalities. Unlike CMP. Maine Power would also be eligible for federal disaster assistance funds.

"In Long Island, a consumer-owned utility was created in 1998 and rates went down by 20 percent," he continued. "After Superstorm Sandy, the Long Island Power Authority received $898 million in federal funds. After the October 2017 windstorm, by comparison, all $77 million in CMP’s expenses became part of their customers’ rates, to be paid back with interest."

Berry said he is confident the people of Maine can support this and win this fight, though he acknowledged the plan faces a strong adversary with deep pockets.

Several prominent local Democrats, including Sen. Dave Miramant of Camden, Rep. Vicki Doudera of Camden, Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center of Rockland and Rep. Ann Matlack of St. George, as well as Rockland City Councilor Valli Geiger, were in attendance at this event.