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Maine lawmakers eye Nebraska public power model as alternative

June 3, 2019 | Jason Kuiper |
Substation at OPPD's North Omaha Station power plant in 2016

Nebraska may have company when it comes to the statewide public power model. Nebraska is currently the only state entirely served by public power. Now Maine is considering becoming the second state to do so.

According to an article from the American Public Power Association (APPA), Maine could create a public power authority to buy the state’s two investor-owned utilities – Central Maine Power and Emera Maine.

Bill debate

A bill introduced last month in the state’s legislature, if passed, would create the Maine Power Deliver Authority. The consumer-owned utility would acquire and operate all transmission and distribution systems currently owned by investor-owned utilities.

Proponents of the bill, including its sponsor Rep. Seth Berry (D), has said the goal is to keep costs down, the lights on and put the state’s workers and customers first. Lawmakers cited public power utilities elsewhere, particularly in Nebraska, as examples that deliver electricity at lower rates with fewer and shorter outages.

Berry estimates the proposal would save ratepayers about 15 percent on their electric bills, or about $325 million annually, according to the APPA article.

Nebraska example

Berry compared Nebraska’s strong reliability track record with Maine. In 2017, Nebraska finished among the 10 most affordable states. Maine finished in the bottom 10, according to APPA based on Energy Information Administration data.

The most recent numbers from the Energy Information Administration (February 2019) show Nebraska’s average retail price of electricity to be 8th lowest in the nation at 9.54 cents per kilowatt hour. Maine ranked 23rd at 11.69 cents per kilowatt hour.

The two states are similar in population. Nebraska has 1.9 million people and Maine has 1.3 million people, and both experience severe weather and all four seasons.

Berry, in introducing the bipartisan legislation, said the current model has failed the state.

“The fiduciary responsibility of CMP and Emera Main is to their multinational investors,” Berry said.

If approved, a nine-member board would oversee the new public utility. The board would represent all customer classes and regions of the state.

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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

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