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Maine lawmakers opt not to tinker with electricity deregulation

By: Darren Fishell |

The legislative committee handling energy policy has recommended the state leave it to regulators and the courts to decide whether affiliates of Maine electric utilities can own power generation within the state.

The Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee effectively killed LD 1513 on Thursday, voting unanimously to recommend against the bill’s passage, with four committee members absent.

Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, who sponsored the bill, recommended that the committee vote against it and let pending court cases clarify under what circumstances, if any, sister companies of Maine’s two major electric companies can have any interest in power generation resources.

“We’ll see what happens in the future and whether or not the [Maine Public Utilities Commission] or the court can finally put to rest the questions that we’ve wrestled with here,” Dion said Thursday. “Because if we don’t, it will be back here again.”

Emera, the Nova Scotia-based parent company of Emera Maine, and Central Maine Power Co. had advocated for the bill, which would have clarified points under contention for years at the PUC and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The case in question dealt with Emera’s joint venture with the wind developer First Wind. The deal unwound when renewables giant SunEdison bought First Wind, but questions about how to interpret the law that separated Maine’s power transmission and distribution companies from companies that own power generators remained.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments last week in the second appeal of that case from a PUC ruling.

“We are not looking to change the law; however, given that we’ve been in litigation now for over four years on the First Wind assets, which we don’t even own anymore, we think that a clarification of the law could be useful,” said Heidi Leslie, a vice president with Emera’s unregulated power generation subsidiary, Emera Energy.

Leslie said the company has no immediate plans to own generation assets again within its service territory in Maine, but that “having some parameters around what an investment could look like could be helpful to us, helpful to other investors, helpful to sellers of assets and helpful to the market.”

Houlton Water Co., the appellant in the Emera-First Wind case, a large industrial energy consumers group and wind opponents like the group Friends of Maine Mountains spoke against the bill in testimony and during work sessions this past week, arguing against a hasty amendment of the law that restructured the state’s electric markets.

Dion said Thursday that the bill waded into a complex area of energy policy but provided the committee a good primer should it have to take up the issue again.

Whether any of those questions get clarified about when sister companies of Maine utilities could own power generation now focuses back on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which does not have any set deadline by which it must rule in the latest appeal.