November 6, 2023


Utility Vote In Maine Asks Wrong Question

In tomorrow’s ballot, Mainers are poised to vote on an unprecedented plan to rid themselves of the state’s two largest electric utilities and start with a non-profit.
But voters are being offered a false choice, since it will not affect how their power is generated, and one of the two companies that is set to be booted out is already a publicly owned company, controlled by the city of Calgary, Canada.

There is no option for power to be generated locally, thereby reducing transmission costs, nor increasing local control of energy. Nor is there any reference to renewable energy.

The proposed takeover of two investor-owned utilities that distribute 97% of electricity in the state would mark the first time a U.S. state’s utilities were forcibly removed at the same time. The referendum calls for dismantling Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant Power and replacing them with a nonprofit utility called Pine Tree Power to operate 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) of transmission lines.
CMP serves more than 600,000 customers in central and southern Maine, while Versant Power delivers power to more than 165,000 customers in northern and eastern Maine. Combined, the two investor-owned utilities (IOUs) serve about 97 percent of the state.

CMP is a subsidiary of Avangrid, which is is owned by the Spain-based Iberdrola. That company’s primary shareholders include the governments of Qatar and Norway.
Versant is a subsidiary of Enmax, whose sole shareholder is the City of Calgary in Canada.
Across the country, ratepayers who are unhappy with their utilities are watching what happens when Mainers vote on Nov. 7 in the off-year election.
Question 3 asks:
“Do you want to create a new power company governed by an elected board to acquire and operate existing for-profit electricity transmission and distribution facilities in Maine?”
A “yes” vote on Question 3 would form The Pine Tree Power Company.
The first-of-its-kind plan would create a new “consumer-owned utility” (COU) would still be tasked with operating, maintaining and upgrading the state’s power grid. To do that, Pine Tree Power would buy out CMP and Versant’s assets.
While it’s still unclear how much that would cost, the new utility would pay for it by borrowing against future revenue. Supporters of the proposal say as a non-profit, the new utility could qualify for lower-interest loans that would be paid back through ratepayer revenue with no taxpayer dollars being used.
Pine Tree Power would be independent of the state and instead be operated by a 13-member board. Seven members would be elected by Maine voters. The other six, who have been labeled as expert advisors, would be appointed by the elected members.
To run the grid and continue supplying electricity to the state, the board would also be tasked with appointing Pine Tree Power’s senior leadership and hiring a private grid operator to over see the day-to-day operations like billing, metering and customer service. …

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