As a progressive Democrat and a conservative Republican serving in the Maine House, we find ourselves on opposite sides of many issues that come before the Legislature. But one thing we agree on is that a government takeover of the state’s electric grid is a lousy idea. Recently (Maine Voices, April 29), the Press Herald ran a column by one of our colleagues, Rep. Seth Berry, promoting this idea. Here’s why we think he’s wrong:

Seizing the state’s utilities would be enormously expensive – by some estimates, it would put us in debt by $13.5 billion. To put that in perspective, that’s about four times the annual state budget for a year. And where would that $13.5 billion come from?  Everyone who uses electricity in Maine. Electric consumers would all be on the hook to pay off that debt through higher bills. In these days of rapidly rising costs, the last thing we need to do is tack this debt payment on to our utility bills.

We both agree our economy needs to transition away from fossil fuels and toward affordable forms of renewable energy. But seizing Central Maine Power and Versant and triggering a decade or two of legal and bureaucratic battles are not a good way to get us there. One thing Rep. Berry did get right in his column was the headline: “For-profit utilities still hold the keys to our climate transition.” Our enemies are rising energy prices and rising global temperatures – not CMP and Versant. We certainly need to hold these utilities accountable and push them to do more to provide reliable, affordable service and speed up our transition away from fossil fuels. But an obsessive focus on vilifying these companies and eventually driving them out of business doesn’t do that.

Maine is already a leader in adopting renewable energy. According to the federal government, about 80 percent of our net electrical generation in Maine comes from renewables – that’s four times the national average. That’s all happened with CMP and Versant and the current ownership structure. Compare that to Nebraska, where an almost entirely government-run grid still gets more than half its power from coal and is ranked near the bottom in terms of grid maintenance and modernization. Seizing CMP and Versant, running up a debt that will take generations to pay off and creating a government-run utility are not the key to an affordable transition to clean energy.

Finally, we think Rep. Berry might want to rethink his assertions about us as Mainers. He described the regulatory system– represented by the Public Utilities Commission here in Maine – as “rigged.” And the rest of us, he says, are “cowed” by CMP and Versant. The picture he paints of Maine consumers, lawmakers and regulators held captive by all powerful utilities might make for good political rhetoric, but it doesn’t match the real world.

Our electric grid plays an incredibly important role in our economy and our environment. And in a time when prices for just about everything are going up and we see the effects of climate change almost every day, what we pay for our electricity and where it comes from are more important than ever. But upending that entire system and taking on astronomical debt aren’t going to get us any closer to an affordable clean-energy future.

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