A company paid $500,000 by Maine regulators to study the state's electric grid may have been ineligible to receive the contract based on conflict of interest rules.

London Economics International was the winning bidder on the study and was tasked with evaluating the pros and cons of converting Maine's two investor-owned electric utilities, Central Maine Power and Emera Maine, to consumer ownership.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission wrote last year that any firm that had worked for either utility in the past five years would be ineligible to avoid any conflicts of interest.

But London Economics International was paid $37,000 for work done for Emera in 2018, the Bangor Daily News reported Monday.

The electric grid study is scheduled to be delivered to the Maine Legislature by Saturday.

Commission chair Phil Bartlett said London Economics International failed to disclose its work for Emera Maine and the commission will review the matter.

But, he added, the “limited scope of work” the firm did for Emera Maine “does not appear to create the kind of conflict of interest that would jeopardize (London Economics International’s) independence.”

London Economics International did not respond to a request for comment.

The study was commissioned to investigate the costs and benefits of a bill introduced by Democratic Rep. Seth Berry, of Bowdoinham, last year that would create a consumer-owned Maine Power Delivery Authority. The authority would then buy out the state's two investor-owned electric utilities and take over their service areas.

Supporters of the plan have said it would improve service and costs for ratepayers, while opponents say those arguments are based on faulty assumptions.

London Economics International was one of two bidders on the study. The other was Texas-based NewGen Strategies and Solutions, which submitted the lower of the two bids. Commission staff found NewGen's lacking because it submitted what appeared to be a plan for transitioning Maine to consumer-owned power rather than evaluating the costs and benefits of both consumer- and investor-owned utilities.

Staff also said NewGen didn't seem to have any Maine or New England experience, while London Economics International had “strong knowledge” of the regions utility and economic issues.

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