Consumer Owned Utilities - Part 3

Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 5:23 PM EDT
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Earlier this month WAGM took a look into Consumer Owned Utilities, covering what a Consumer Owned Utility is, and a push through legislation to create a large scale consumer owned utility for the state of Maine to replace Versant and CMP. In the third part of this series focusing on Consumer Owned Utilities, Brian Bouchard looks into some misconceptions people may have regarding the future of Maine’s electric grid.

While using electricity is as simple as flipping a switch, the regulation of the electric utilities that deliver that power is not as simple. Seth Berry is a State Representative for House District #55 and is also the sponsor of LD 1708 or “An Act To Create the Pine Tree Power Company, a Nonprofit Utility, To Deliver Lower Rates, Reliability and Local Control for Maine Energy Independence”. Berry says a lot of Mainers have misconceptions regarding the Pine Tree Power Proposal, and Consumer Owned Utilities in general.

“I think the number one misconception is that somehow this is new and scary, that’s what Central Maine Power and Versant Power want you to think”

Berry went on to state that many Consumer Owned Utilities already exist in the state, though on a much smaller scale to what is being proposed to replace Versant and CMP.

“It’s a proven model, it’s been around since the very dawn of the electrical era, it’s cheaper it’s more reliable and it’s locally controlled. And this works around the country, in the Midwest all of Nebraska has consumer owned Utilities”

For Berry, and many that support Pine Tree Power, having local control of the transmission and distribution of Maine’s electricity is of the utmost importance.

“The number one thing is they’re not owned by foreign corporations or foreign governments. Versant which serves most of Aroostook County right now is unfortunately owned by a foreign government, it’s the government of Calgary in Canada. Fortunately they are an ally, but there’s nothing to prevent Versant from being sold to China for example, or Russia. Maine law can not prevent that, that is something only the federal government can control. There’s very little standing in the way of a hostile foreign government owning your power, your electric lines.”

Willy Ritch, Executive Director for Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, who is opposed to the creation of Pine Tree Power, says despite supporter’s claims that a large scale consumer owned utility would work in Maine, using Nebraska as an example doesn’t fall in line with Maine’s goals to go green.

“The state of Nebraska which is mostly entirely government run it is a state that has some of the dirtiest mix of power in the country, in other words the least amount of renewable energy, they’re 49th, I think in terms of grid modernization, we’re about 19th here in Maine”

Ritch went on to say that based on door to door polls conducted by the Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, only a small fraction of Mainer’s support the Pine Tree Power Proposal.

“Only about 9 percent of the people that answer the door and talk to us say they’re in favor of it, so I think there’s some politicians that, probably for political purposes are making a big deal out of this, but I’m not convinced that the average person in Maine thinks this is a good idea”

Representative Berry, and the supporters of Pine Tree Power are hoping to have a referendum question added to the 2023 ballot, and are currently collecting signatures.

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