Initiative to create a consumer-owned electric utility and replace CMP and Versant will appear on Maine 2023 ballot

An initiative to create a municipal electric transmission and distribution utility, replacing Central Maine Power and Versant Power, will be on the Maine ballot on Nov. 7, 2023.

The campaign supporting the initiative, Our Power Maine, submitted 69,735 valid signatures in 2022 to certify the initiative to the legislature. After the signatures were verified, the initiative was sent to the Maine State Legislature. The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee of the Maine State Legislature then voted unanimously to move the initiative to the Nov. 2023 ballot on May 5, 2023.

The question that will appear on the ballot is: “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?”

In Maine, initiated state statutes are indirect. Unlike direct citizen initiatives, which are certified to the ballot after a campaign submits enough valid signatures, an indirect initiative goes to the state legislature first. In Maine, a citizen initiative can only appear on the ballot as an indirect initiative. The initiative only goes to the ballot if the legislature rejects the initiative, or does not take action by the end of the session. If the legislature passes the initiative, and the governor signs it, the initiative becomes law.

The initiative would create a municipal electric transmission and distribution utility called the Pine Tree Power Company, which would replace Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant, two of Maine’s primary electric transmission and distribution utilities, which are investor-owned. As of Dec. 31, 2022, according to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, CMP served 80% of Maine’s residents, while Versant served 16.4% of Maine’s residents. In addition, Maine had nine consumer-owned utilities serving 3.6% of Maine’s residents.

Pine Tree Power Company would be governed by a board composed of 13 members. Seven members would be elected by voters, and six would be nominated by the seven-elected board members. Pine Tree Power Company would be tasked with “deliver[ing] electricity to the company’s customer-owners in a safe, affordable and reliable manner.”

Our Power Maine stated, “The company’s purposes are to provide for its customer-owners in this State reliable, affordable electric transmission and distribution services and to help the State meet its climate, energy and connectivity goals in the most rapid and affordable manner possible.”

The campaign opposing the initiative, the Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, said that the initiative would result in higher electric bills. The coalition said, “A scheme to seize Maine’s electric grid by eminent domain would create a government-controlled utility — and we would all be on the hook for the cost.”

Another measure, which is still awaiting action in the state legislature, would require voter approval for certain state entities, including the proposed Pine Tree Power Company, if it incurs a total outstanding debt that exceeds $1 billion. This measure is backed by the Maine Affordable Maine Coalition, as well as CMP’s parent company, Avangrid Inc.

CMP and Avangrid Inc. are also involved with the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project that would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. There was an effort to halt the construction of this project when voters approved Question 1 in 2021, which prohibited the construction of the NECEC. However, NECEC Transmission, LLC and Avangrid Networks, Inc. filed a lawsuit in the Cumberland County Superior Court on Nov. 3, 2021, arguing that Question 1 violated the separation of powers and the sanctity of contracts. On April 20, 2023, a jury decided in a 9-0 unanimous verdict that the construction of the NECEC can resume.

Through March 31, 2023, the Our Power campaign has reported $699,797 in contributions in support of the Pine Tree Power Company initiative, while the Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, the campaign opposing the initiative, reported $14 million in contributions. The largest donor opposing the Pine Tree Power Company initiative is Avangrid, Inc, spending $13.5 million in total contributions opposing the measure.

As of May 8, the Pine Tree Power Company initiative is the only measure on Maine’s Nov. 7, 2023 ballot. Three other initiatives are currently in the state legislature awaiting action.

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