Fighting for Public Power in Maine

Elections Electricity Cooperatives Energy Voting Voting Rights

            Marble Falls      Voters in Ohio are trying to protect their ability to bring initiative petitions to the ballot in a closely watched election in August of all times.  In an ongoing trend, Republican legislators are trying to make the process harder, in the Ohio case to keep voters from having their say about abortion.  They want to require petitions to come from all eighty-eight Ohio counties, twice as many as now, and to poll 60%, rather than a majority, in order to approve an initiative.  This is a vote we’ll all be watching.

There’s also a vote coming in Maine that is worth serious attention.  There is a citizens group called Our Power, which is made up of a lot of community, environmental, and climate groups and activists, including a bunch of politicians, and was able to get a measure on the ballot to create a statewide public power company called Pine Tree Power.   If the voters approve this measure in November, then the two private power operations would be bought out and amalgamated into the new public operation.

Part of the advocate’s campaign is based on local control.  The two existing companies, Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant Power, are owned by parent companies, Avangrid and Enmax.  “CMP’s parent company is owned by Iberdrola SA, a Spanish energy conglomerate whose largest shareholder is the Qatar Investment Authority. Versant Power is owned by Enmax, based in Calgary, Canada,” as The Guardian has reported.  These companies don’t produce power in Maine, they distribute power, which is also what Pine Tree would do.  The advocates also hammer the companies on poor service issues, especially when power lines go down because of treefall.

The companies have created a bunch of political shell operations to oppose this threat to their fundamental business models, and have pumped money into these committees and a slew of other politicians to represent their interests.  One of the companies has also funded an operation that would also require voters to approve any state spending over one-billion-dollars in order to put an additional roadblock in front of any public acquisition.  The price tag for this transition could run between five and fourteen billion, so it’s hefty.  Advocates also expect there to be lengthy litigation that would stall any real change for five years, but the companies promise they will be in court for up to fourteen years.

Our Power says this will mean greener and cheaper power, but the companies will invariably campaign against change, arguing it is better to reform the devil you know, rather than the devils you don’t.  These are hard fights to win.  Despite the fact that there are over “2000 towns and cities served by not-for-profit electric companies, according to the American Public Power Association,” “since 2000, more than 60 communities have considered municipalization, but only nine proceeded, according to a 2019 study for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities.”

This is a fight worth following this November.   I’m rooting for them – all power to the advocates!