The Maine Public Utilities Commission Credit: Lori Valigra

The Legislature’s energy committee on Friday asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which regulates electricity and other utilities, to study the costs, benefits and other aspects of a proposal to create a consumer-owned utility that would replace Central Maine Power and Emera Maine.

The PUC would need to complete the study by Feb. 15, 2020, and deliver it to the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

Money to fund the study will come from the PUC’s reimbursement fund, which derives primarily from fines from the Dig Safe program, Mitchell Tannenbaum, a lawyer for the PUC, told the energy committee.

“It’s certainly doable from a PUC perspective,” Tannenbaum told the committee Friday.

Under the study, the PUC would evaluate the proposed creation of the Maine Power Delivery Authority, which would be owned and controlled by Maine consumers.

Only one other U.S. state, Nebraska, has a statewide consumer-owned utility to deliver electricity.

The controversial proposal, LD 1646, came in response to frustration over high rates by CMP and Emera, renewable energy policies and ongoing customer service issues.

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, co-chair of the Legislature’s energy committee, proposed the legislation. He and others also contend that the profits for CMP and Emera don’t stay in Maine. Both companies are owned by foreign parents that are publicly traded.

The PUC study must include an analysis of the short- and long-term costs and benefits of the proposal. It also must examine the legal, regulatory, technical, financial and operational issues related to the proposal and its implementation.

It must assess the anticipated impacts, both positive and negative, of the proposal on the state. That includes how it would affect electricity rates, utility employees and ratepayers.

And it must develop alternatives or amendments to LD 1646 to address any obstacles identified by the study.

The PUC is to hire an independent consultant with relevant expertise to conduct the study.

The commission also may seek public input and may consult with the Office of the Public Advocate and the Governor’s Energy Office to conduct the evaluation.

Berry said his committee also has asked to have four interim meetings after the legislative session adjourns this week. He wants to be able to meet to discuss work pending at the PUC, the Office of the Public Advocate and the Governor’s Energy Office.

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...