An amended bill to create a consumer-owned electricity distribution utility in Maine cleared a key hurdle Tuesday, June 1, when it was strongly endorsed by a legislative committee, setting it on a course for consideration by the full Legislature and, ultimately, Maine voters.

By a 9-2 margin, with two lawmakers absent, the Energy, Utilities and Technology committee voted ought-to-pass on L.D. 1708.

The bill would force the state’s two dominant, investor-owned utilities, Central Maine Power Co. and Versant Power, to sell their assets and set in motion the creation of Pine Tree Power Co., a privately operated, nonprofit company controlled by an elected board.

Tuesday’s vote followed a short work session in the committee to hammer out language details on the far-reaching measure, which would upend more than a century of ownership in the poles and wires that bring electricity to 96% of the state’s homes and businesses.

But behind the quick action was a protracted effort. Supporters have been trying for years to flip what they see as a flawed business model that favors investors to one that benefits consumers and speeds a transition to an electric grid that can accommodate the renewable energy infrastructure needed to fight climate change. Tuesday’s vote brought them one step closer.

The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee next will review language in the bill related to the Maine Freedom of Access Act. It then will go before the full House and Senate for further votes.

A wild card in the process is the position of Gov. Janet Mills. She has been outwardly mum on the proposal. But in a marathon public hearing on the bill last month that lasted nine hours and attracted 167 pieces of testimony, her energy director said it “raises substantial and serious questions that deserve a great deal more examination and research by the Legislature.”

But on Tuesday, bill supporters were celebrating.

“This has been, for me, a three-year journey,” said Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the bill’s lead sponsor and a longtime CMP critic.

Berry was joined by Sen. Mark Lawrence, D-York, who co-chairs the committee with him, as well as six other Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Nathan Carlow, R-Buxton. Two Republicans, Rep. Steven Foster, R-Dexter, and Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, R-Hiram, were opposed. Two other Republican lawmakers on the committee were absent.

“As an independent nonprofit with an elected board and private sector operations, the Pine Tree Power Co. will allow us to control our own money and our own energy destiny — to advance fast and fairly toward our own clean energy and connectivity future,” Berry said after the vote.

Our Power, a coalition supporting the bill, said in a statement that it was the first time in history that a Maine legislative committee had voted to put the power of the electrical grid directly in the control of state residents.

Prior to the vote, committee members expressed views that will foreshadow debate in the full Legislature — as well as in public — prior to a potential November referendum.

“This is definitely a government takeover of what’s currently a private enterprise,” Foster told the panel, explaining his opposition.

But the bill’s supporters saw it differently.

“It’s not a government takeover,” countered Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth. “It’s a consumer takeover.”

Versant, CMP and an interest group formed to oppose the bill voiced disappointment about the committee’s action.

“This legislation continues to pose many unanswered questions, uncertainty for years to come and significant cost liabilities for the people of Maine,” said Judy Long, a Versant spokeswoman.