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Pine Tree Power: change Mainers deserve

September 22, 2023

This piece represents the opinion of the author .
Eva Ahn

This November, Mainers who go to the polls will be asked to vote on Question 3: whether or not to establish the Pine Tree Power Company (PTP), a nonprofit, consumer-owned utility company (COU). A “yes” vote will transition energy away from Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant and back into the hands of Mainers to ensure a cleaner, cheaper and more reliable future for Maine’s energy infrastructure.

CMP and Versant, which are both private companies, are spending millions to appear greener. CMP purports to meet “high standards of environmental stewardship,” according to its website. However, the company has a long history of lobbying against climate action. As young students, we are particularly vulnerable to the devastating effects of the climate crisis, and unfortunately we reside in a state that is struggling to protect the environment. Today, Maine has the highest use of heating oil in the U.S. To prioritize the state’s climate goals, a COU like Pine Tree Power would have the ability to finance improvements to Maine’s energy grid at a three to six percent interest rate rather than the utilities’ 10 to 12 percent return on equity. In short, this would mean that PTP could center clean energy within our power grid while safeguarding our future.

CMP and Versant are also operated by foreign corporations that cost Mainers far too much. Last year, both utilities made over $187 million in profits combined and continued to hike distribution rates; both utilities were approved for substantial rate hikes. Without a vested interest in Maine’s energy, CMP and Versant consistently deliver unreliable power. In fact, for the past four consecutive years, CMP had the worst customer satisfaction in the U.S. With over 94,000 disconnection notices sent out to customers who were unable to meet their utilities’ oppressive financial demands last spring, this is unsurprising.

If Maine chose to embrace PTP on the ballot, the state would save $9 billion over the next 30 years, and consumers would pay $367 less per year. PTP’s potential to remove Mainers’ financial burden is not uncharacteristic of consumer-owned utility companies. The ten COUs that already exist in Maine are 52 percent cheaper than CMP and Versant because both utilities are guaranteed an eight to twelve percent return on their investment according to Maine State Law—a system that PTP would reject as a consumer-owned non-profit.

Although these numbers present an attractive alternative to CMP and Versant, some voters are concerned that PTP would constitute a radical overhaul to Maine’s energy grid. This is simply untrue. COUs are stable and trustworthy utility models. The entire state of Nebraska has publicly owned power and, on average, experiences some of the lowest rates of outages in the country. If PTP passed on the ballot, a board of state-elected non-partisan officials would oversee Maine’s energy grid. In other words, the non-profit, operating within Maine, would have an incentive to run the state’s power smoothly and not bend to the whims of foreign investors.

Every day, Mainers struggle with the burdens of an unsustainable energy system. While CMP and Versant’s investors make hundreds of millions, we can barely afford our bills. Voting yes on Question 3 would bring immense change to our state. For some, this change may seem scary—especially when that change affects millions of consumers. However, the current energy system in Maine—one that is costly, unreliable and harmful to our environment—simply cannot endure. We must embrace Pine Tree Power and bring power back to Mainers.

Owen Gramley is a member of the Class of 2025 and works for the Pine Tree Power campaign.


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One comment:

  1. Mark Flannery says:

    All we have to do is look west at Boulder CO to see what a debacle converting a privately owned utility system to a public power entity will be. They voted for municipalization 10+ years ago and finally gave up after 10 years. Meanwhile they spent tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on the effort, dollars that were ultimately wasted. CMP/Avangrid will out-spend, out-litigate, and out-wait all efforts to create a Maine public utility and in the end the only ones that will win are the lawyers.

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