A century ago, Gov. Percival Baxter battled against Central Maine Power’s privatization of our rivers. Baxter lost. Half a century later, Gov. Joe Brennan, as a state senator, quipped that CMP owned “everything else around here” – meaning they practically held the keys to the State House.

Today, CMP’s and Versant’s lobbyists still clutch at those keys. As their captive customer, you still pay for all these monopolies’ costs, plus profits. Amazingly, your rates are even required to pay for their expensive lawyers to argue at our Public Utilities Commission for even higher rates.

State lawmakers and regulators can’t truly change this. The bigger problem is a rigged U.S. regulatory system, shaped by U.S. Supreme Court decisions dating to the days of Baxter.

Back then, electricity was about modernizing. Today, it is about surviving. To end our addiction to gas and oil, we must electrify our economy. This means we will depend on monopoly utilities – monopoly networks of poles, wires, transformers and substations.

Our power lines have become our children’s lifelines.

So what are we doing about it? Over the last three years, we have changed at least a few locks at the State House.


Gov. Mills’ PUC has been willing to question distant management structures and modestly curtail CMP’s record profits. When I pointed out CMP’s use of illegal disconnection notices to bully struggling customers, the PUC also issued a $500,000 penalty.

A new law puts a stop to CMP’s repeated attempts to disconnect public safety facilities, owing to its own billing mistakes. Another new law removes CMP’s immunity from injuries caused by its neglect of high-voltage lines. This neglect nearly killed a teenage boatyard worker in 2002.

We’ve also enacted more decentralized energy policies such as net metering, nonwired alternatives and integrated distribution planning. Planning was part of L.D. 1959, passed this month with an amendment offered by Rep. Chris Kessler of South Portland. This “utility accountability” bill was modest but was strengthened with encouragement by the Press Herald editorial board and others.

One improvement to L.D. 1959 is that it now focuses on CMP and Versant, not on Maine’s existing consumer-owned utilities. Serving 97 Maine towns from Calais to Kennebunk, our nine existing nonprofit consumer-owned utilities are already accountable. Their customer-owners elect governing boards and can attend board meetings. And these nonprofit consumer-owned utilities also save money.  Because they must milk profits from captive customers for distant owners, CMP and Versant charge 49 percent more per kilowatt-hour for delivery than Maine’s consumer-owned utilities.

The Kessler amendment also nudges CMP and Versant to use competitive bidding. Only utilities make more money the more they spend, and CMP’s owner has been accused of inflating spending to inflate rates. Competition helps reduce costs. Lower rates are crucial if we want Maine people and businesses to switch to electric vehicles and heat pumps.

Yet despite all these modest steps, CMP and Versant still hold the keys.


Why? First, because they can and will continue to use your money against you, spending millions on lobbyists, lawyers and lies to keep customers cowed and captive. But more importantly, not even lawmakers or regulators can change Supreme Court decisions. Just as the Citizens United decision limits clean elections, the Hope and Bluefield decisions limit clean energy, energy justice and energy democracy.

Yet there is one proven remedy. It is to change the utility business model, as they did in Winter Park, Florida; Jefferson County, Washington, and elsewhere, and as Our Power seeks to do here.

Who should own our clean-energy future? Should it be a foreign, for-profit monopoly, with all expenses paid, plus profits, under a rigged U.S. regulatory system? Or should it be a secure, superior and proven alternative, already serving 28 percent of Americans and 97 Maine communities?

We know what works. Of the six U.S. communities that have so far arrived at 100 percent renewable energy – towns in Vermont, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, Alaska and Missouri – all six are served by consumer-owned utilities. That is no coincidence. And of all large U.S. utilities, the two leaders in the race to 100 percent are also both consumer-owned.

Now is the time to take back the keys to our energy future, by adopting a proven and superior alternative that is lower-cost, more reliable and locally controlled. To learn more, please visit ourpowermaine.org.

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