This past week I’ve been watching a lot of mountain climbing documentaries on YouTube. No, I don’t know why.

I have absolutely zero interest in climbing anything higher than Munjoy Hill. Maybe it was nice to imagine being on top of an icy cold desolate mountain instead of, you know, being in Maine in August. The mountain climbing isn’t the point here. The point is, with YouTube come ads. With the 30-minute videos I was watching (thanks, whoever uploaded all these BBC documentaries about the Himalayas) come several ads. And I’ve been seeing mostly slickly produced animated ads about “government-controlled power.” The only ads I’ve seen more than these are the ones for Liberty Mutual, which simply will not quit.

The first thing I noticed was that the power ads weren’t specifically for or against a vote. None of them were saying “Vote Yes on 1” or “Vote No on 6,” or whatever. There weren’t any candidates or groups named, just an encouragement to visit a website, “Maine Affordable Energy,” which of course sounds great. And then later, on the radio, I heard an ad by the president of Central Maine Power, Joseph Purington, just talking about how much he loves Maine and working for CMP. No particular “do this” or “I don’t support that.” What’s going on here? What’s the point of all these nonspecific negative ads?

As it turns out, a group called Our Power is gathering signatures for a citizen’s initiative, also known as a referendum, to create a privately operated but not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric utility company, Pine Tree Power Company, that would buy out the operational assets of CMP and Versant. I suspect the majority of my readers don’t need me to explain what CMP and Versant are.

It seems that CMP is trying to get ahead of the game, running these ads in order to scare people and turn public opinion against public power – or, if we’re using their language, “government-controlled power.” Ooga booga booga!

I may not be the smartest person in the world, or even the smartest person in my house, but even I know that a government is elected by the people and for the people. CMP, on the other hand, is a private company, owned by another big national company, Avangrid Networks, which is in turn wholly owned and operated by a large multinational company, Iberdrola. It is operated for the purposes of making a profit. Voters would elect seven out of 13 members of Pine Tree Power Company’s board of directors. I’ve never voted for anyone on CMP’s board of directors. And I’ve voted in every election every year since I turned 18 in 2010.


The problem, as I see it, is one of monopoly. I’m not an economist – I was an English major in college and now I’m a secretary – but even I know that the checks and balances of capitalism break down when it comes to monopolies. And, to be fair, electrical grids need to basically be monopolies in order to physically work – by their nature they’re large and interconnected. But if there’s a monopoly in a market (for example, electricity) there is no competition to lower prices. And if the product in question is an essential utility (for example, again, electricity), you’re at the mercy of whatever the monopoly wants to charge you. Going without electricity is not a viable option in this day and age, particularly as climate change causes more extreme weather events. And individual household solar is still too expensive for people with average incomes to install, although hopefully that will start changing with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.

I’m not opposed to rate hikes in order to give CMP line workers a raise, or to buy new equipment, or to switch over to greener, cleaner methods of electricity generation. But I don’t like rate hikes just so that investors who have nothing to do with Maine, our power, or our people can get a little richer. My electric bill last month was $88. That’s not too bad but it’s not great, and that’s before the recent heat wave.

At my job, I get calls every week from patients who need a doctor to sign a form confirming that they have essential medical equipment in their home that they cannot safely live without in order to prevent CMP from shutting off their power. I’d really like to not have to get any more of those calls.

According to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, as of Dec. 31, 2021, CMP’s total kilowatt-hour rate is 21 cents per kilowatt hour. Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative, a nonprofit utility company covering parts of Washington, Aroostook and Penobscot counties, has a total kilowatt-hour rate of 17.3 cents per kilowatt hour. Feel free to double-check my numbers, but it sure seems like EMEC’s electricity is cheaper.

I haven’t decided how I’ll vote on the citizen’s initiative yet. After all, November 2023 is a long ways away. But I wanted to flag a barrage of confusing ads coming our way, courtesy of everyone’s favorite monthly bill.


Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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