Gov. Mills urges voters to reject utility takeover plan

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(The Center Square) — Maine Gov. Janet Mills is urging voters to reject a plan to authorize the takeover of the state’s two largest utilities to create a new publicly owned power company.

Question 3 on the Nov. 7 ballot asks Maine voters if they 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?”

If approved, the ballot question would require the state to create the Pine Tree Power Company by taking over the distribution and service areas of Central Maine Power Company and Versant Power. Bakers of the plan say a nonprofit, consumer-owned utility would deliver clean, reliable electricity at a lower cost and with local control over the operations.

But in a video message, Mills cited several concerns with the proposal, from the estimated $13.5 billion price tag for taxpayers to the likelihood of costly court battles with the utilities who are expected to challenge a “hostile takeover” under eminent domain.

“That leaves our utilities in a dangerous state of limbo when we can least afford it,” she said. “It also threatens to set back the progress we are making in modernizing the electric grid to achieve clean energy goals and address climate change.”

Mills cited many other concerns about the proposal, including its governance structure, potential for protracted litigation and delays in meeting the state’s climate goals.

“So, what we are really talking about here is adding a layer of bureaucracy and politics and partisanship over the existing structure of CMP and Versant and I just don’t see how this improves anything,” she said.

She touted legislation she signed into law two years ago that sets minimum standards for utility service, increases penalties, and strengthens state oversight of private companies.

“That’s what we should be doing – holding them accountable and improving their service, not launching a hostile takeover 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,” she said.

The Our Power coalition, which includes the Sierra Club, Environment Maine and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, argues that a consumer-owned utility would deliver clean, reliable electricity at a lower cost, and with local control over the operations.

But power companies said the move would amount to a “government takeover” of their service areas in Maine, which could impact the state’s cost and reliability of electricity.

Meanwhile, a group funded by Central Maine Power’s corporate parent, Avangrid, has put a question on the November ballot that would require voter approval if the government seeks to issue more than $1 billion debt.

Question 1 directly responds to a consumer-owned utility campaign, which the group argues would create “billions of dollars in debt” consumers would have to pay off through higher electric bills.

In 2021, Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have created the public utility. Lawmakers couldn’t muster enough votes for the two-thirds majority to override her objections, so it died at the end of the legislative session.

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