- Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Chair Tom Welch will retire two years early at the end of 2014, according to the Bangor Daily News.
- With Welch's departure and the expiration of Commissioner David Littell's term in March, whoever is elected Governor in November will have the opportunity to pick two of the three PUC members and have a profound influence Maine’s upcoming regulatory proceedings.
- The PUC regulates water, telephone, electricity and natural gas rates. Two key cases that may not be completed before Welch and Littell leave involve a needed upgrade to Maine’s electricity grid and an expansion of the state’s natural gas pipeline to overcome last winter’s supply shortages.
The next Governor will have uncommon influence over regulatory proceedings that impact the state's energy supply.
Maine’s gubernatorial race between incumbent Republican Paul LePage, Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud, and Independent Eliot Cutler is polling within the margin of error, adding further uncertainty to how Maine’s energy future and other regulatory issues will be resolved.
The next governor will first have to appoint a replacement for Chair Welch, whose current chairmanship began in 2011 but who also served as Chair from 1993 to 2005. And in March, the next governor must decide whether to re-appoint or replace Commissioner Littell.
If this winter is as cold as the last, price spikes in response to natural gas pipeline limitations may draw the ire of Maine's consumers. To meet the requirements of an energy bill passed by Maine’s legislature in 2013, the PUC is considering a charge on electricity customers’ bills to cover a $1.5 billion, 20-year expansion of the state’s natural gas capacity.