Time to pull the plug

We hope Maine leaders are listening to the options presented in a recent report from the Maine Public Utilities Commission regarding the feasibility of Maine pulling out of the New England Power Pool. With electric rates going up, now is the time for Maine to opt out, before we are struck with higher electric bills.

Maine’s power grid is managed by Independent System Operator (ISO) of New England, an organization that operates and develops the electric power system in all six New England states.

Their latest demand is that residential customers in Maine, most of whom are barely coping with high property tax bills, low wages and a high cost of living, contribute an additional $625 million over the next five years. That’s just too steep a price for Mainers to handle.

The report released last week by the public utilities commission (a quasi-judicial entity that regulates electricity, water, phone and natural gas) said joining with nearby Canadian provinces is a viable and legal option. The deal, by all accounts, would be a better offer compared with the current arrangement.

It would be easy to get the grid operational. According to a utilities commission spokeswoman, transmission lines are already in place to connect New Brunswick and Maine. And, should Maine need to spend money on upgrades to accommodate increased use in the future, Maine would be investing in its own infrastructure, rather than another state’s.

There are those who say Maine is getting a good deal by sharing costs with five other states. But why should Maine pay for additional capacity it will never use? We use relatively little energy and our neighbors use a lot.

Massachusetts and Connecticut, two of the wealthiest states in the country, are making out well under the current arrangement. More than half of the slated transmission improvements are happening in Connecticut alone, yet the rest of New England somehow has to pay for energy usage there. Clearly, the rich are getting richer. The request that Maine pay $625 million borders on the obscene when you consider the many homes in southern New England resembling mini-mansions with central-everything. Why should poor Mainers pay for others’ energy overindulgence?

Instead, Maine should join with the Canadian Maritime provinces. It makes sense because unlike Massachusetts and Connecticut, which need to grow both the number and power output of transmission stations to handle increased demand, the Maritimes aren’t expecting dramatic usage increases.

Another good argument for joining our northern neighbor has to do with the climate. In summer when Mainers and tourists crank up their energy use, cool Canadian summers require less energy consumption. And in winter, when Canadian winters bear down, energy use rises. It would therefore be a more stable relationship.

In a state where everyone seems to be tightening budgets, the Maine Legislature needs to act in order to save us from the shock our New England neighbors want to give us. With electric rate hikes occurring twice in less than a year, it’s time to act in order to ensure a more predictable future for electric ratepayers.

-John Balentine, editor

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