Viewpoint: Utility regulations need an upgrade



By Nicole Grohoski

 

This spring, as the proposed CMP corridor has gained more public attention, I have heard from many of my constituents who have concerns about this project. People want to know how the environment will be affected. They want to know if there will be real, worthwhile economic and climate change mitigation benefits. But most of all, they want a say.

Unfortunately, the current process for approving elective transmission lines like the one CMP is proposing does not allow for the level of input Mainers deserve.

My work on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee has allowed me to think critically about the approval process and more broadly about the impact of elective transmission lines on the state.

We are entering an unprecedented era of electrification. Electric utility projects are now going beyond grid reliability and we need to refine our regulatory process.

New transmission projects should guarantee both immediate and long-term benefits to Maine ratepayers. Mainers should not bear the cost, financial or environmental, of projects that provide profits for a company without service improvements to our communities.

Currently, it is legal for these elective transmission lines to use eminent domain and override local ordinances, because historically utilities have provided critical service to Maine people. Although it is reasonable for a utility to consider diversifying its business model, it is not reasonable for the state to grant it an unfair advantage.

No other private business in Maine can use eminent domain or work outside of ordinances without a robust approval process. To rectify this issue, I supported LD 1383, a bill that would protect landowners and home rule. A utility company building an elective transmission line has every right to purchase land like any other business and should have to abide by local zoning like any other business.

There is also no guarantee in law that the communities chosen to host an elective transmission line would get any benefits or have any say in the process. I supported a second bill, LD 1363, to protect our municipalities by guaranteeing them a minimum mandatory tax benefit and a minimum community benefits package based on the capacity of the project.

This bill also allows the affected communities to determine if they do or do not support the project through their elected officials or through a local referendum. Two-thirds of the communities would need to approve the project for it to receive Public Utilities Commission approval. Thus, no one community would have the ability to prohibit a project on its own.

As we debated this legislation, some argued it sends a bad signal to business. I would contend that a regulated public utility, which is a state-approved monopoly, is not your average business. As state government, we can and must provide the rules by which we allow a monopoly to do business because a monopoly has no free-market competition.

For me, this legislation is about more than the CMP corridor. I believe lawmakers owe it to their constituents and all the people of Maine to set up appropriate protections and local control for elective, for-profit transmission projects. When I think about Downeast Maine and what a corridor of this magnitude would mean for us and our tourism economy and natural resources, I can do nothing less than champion these improvements to our regulatory process. We could be next, and currently, we would have no say.

Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth) is serving her first term in the Maine House representing District 132 (Ellsworth and Trenton).

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