William Harwood shown here in 2010. Credit: Courtesy of Verrill Dana

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills nominated a veteran energy lawyer who now serves as one of her top advisers to be Maine’s next utility ratepayer advocate.

The nomination of William Harwood for public advocate comes at a pivotal time for Maine energy policy. Voters rejected the $1 billion Central Maine Power Co. corridor in the November election and may vote in 2022 on establishing a consumer-owned electric utility that would borrow billions to buy the infrastructure of CMP and Versant Power.

Harwood is best known for a 30-year career representing utilities in front of state and federal regulators, including more than 50 cases before the Maine Public Utilities Commission. If he is confirmed by the Legislature’s energy panel and the Maine Senate, his job will be to represent ratepayers before the commission. He has served as an adviser to Mills since the summer.

“Bill’s deep expertise, built over his [decades-long] career, will serve Maine well and will advance our efforts to hold our utilities accountable and deliver reliable service for Maine people,” Mills said.

The longtime Verrill Dana lawyer would replace Barry Hobbins, a former Democratic state legislator appointed by former Gov. Paul LePage in 2017 who retired in June. The position has been filled on an interim basis since then by Deputy Public Advocate Andrew Landry.

There was much maneuvering for the post in Augusta, with a source telling the Bangor Daily News in July that five people were in the running for the Democratic governor’s nomination. But only former state Rep. Christina Riley, D-Jay, a master electrician, confirmed her interest then.

The last several public advocates have been lawyers and Harwood is a conventional pick. While Hobbins and his office helped broker a benefits package that cinched Mills’ support for the controversial hydropower corridor, the former public advocate was at times a vocal critic of CMP, leaving office by asking for a probe of its management structure.

Harwood’s nomination is not expected to be controversial. Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, a member of the energy committee who was taught utility law by the nominee at the University of Maine School of Law, called Harwood “a really talented guy” who may have been underused in his current administration role.

Given the busy year ahead for energy policy amid rising fuel and electricity prices, Stewart, who backed the corridor and opposes a public utility takeover, said he hoped Harwood would take an active role in educating Mainers about the effects of landmark policy decisions.

“I feel confident that Bill will be able to work with Democrats and Republicans; I’m not worried about that,” he said. “But I hope that when these issues come up, he looks at them and advocates for the position that is best for the ratepayers.”

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...