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September 21, 2023

With public utility vote looming, Mills speaks out sharply against Pine Tree Power

CMP truck Photo / Peter Van Allen A Central Maine Power crew repairs damage from a tree limb blown down by Hurricane Lee.

After a years-long and sometimes bitter public feud over the performance of Maine's electricity companies, voters this November will decide whether the state buys out Central Maine Power and Versant Power and replaces them with a customer-owned nonprofit utility.

On Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills weighed in, strongly urging Mainers to reject the proposal, which will appear as Question 3 on the Nov. 7 statewide ballot.

Backers say the new entity, dubbed Pine Tree Power and overseen by a publicly elected board, would deliver lower-cost, more reliable electricity.

Not surprisingly, opponents including CMP and Versant dispute that claim — and point out that Maine might have to borrow as much as $13.5 billion to pay for the two investor-owned companies.

Mills cited the potential costs, as well as predictions by the Maine Office of the Public Advocate and "independent analyses" that the price of electricity would not fall and could even increase under the new authority.

What's more, she said in her radio address, creating the elected board would inject "a level of politics and partisanship into the delivery of our electricity. That’s the last thing we need, and, hey, I’m talking as a politician."

The board would be required to contract with an operator for the utility — "so, somebody who looks a lot like CMP and Versant," she noted.

In addition, Mills said, "Because Question 3 is a hostile take-over of our utilities with eminent domain, we are guaranteed to go to court and to be tied up in litigation for years, if not decades. That leaves our utilities in a dangerous state of limbo when we can least afford it."

Instead of taking over the existing electricity delivery companies, Mills said Maine should work to better regulate and improve them.

"That’s what we should be doing — holding them accountable and improving their service, not launching a hostile take-over that will cost billions of dollars to Maine ratepayers, and inject partisanship into the delivery of our power, and delay the progress we’ve been making."

Pine Tree Power advocates responded with a statement saying, “We aren’t looking to politicians like Gov. Mills to tell us how to vote this fall. Mainers are looking at our electric bills, neighbors and the existing consumer-owned utilities across the state that save people money.”

In recent years, both CMP and Versant have been publicly criticized over rate increases, some of which have been dictated by changes in the costs of generating electricity and so are not in the control of the two companies, which transmit and distribute power.

CMP has also been criticized over a series of billing errors several years ago. Both CMP and Versant have ranked among the country's electric utilities with the worst customer satisfaction, according to market research firm J.D. Power.

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