Gov. Percival Baxter is among Maine’s best remembered leaders, known for having protected the public lands around Katahdin for all to enjoy. Less known is that Baxter also devoted himself to public power.

Sadly, he lost his battles with the founder of Central Maine Power over the rights to our rivers.

During those struggles Baxter noted that “for years Maine had given away franchises … eminent domain rights, rights to flow and … everything else that belonged to the people of this State.”

CMP’s unique privileges soon extended to land as well as water. To dam the Dead River, CMP was given eminent domain – the sovereign power of the state – to seize the land, barns and houses of whole villages in the beautiful, fertile valley below Bigelow Mountain. Hundreds of families who had lived in and farmed along the Dead River for a century and a half were dispossessed. Their homes and farms were condemned, and their villages disappeared in 1950 beneath the waters of CMP’s newly formed reservoir, today called Flagstaff Lake.

Today, the importance of energy is even greater than in Baxter’s time. Affordable clean energy is needed not only for industry, but also to provide our children with a livable planet. Done right, the transition to sustainable electricity production and distribution can turn our abundant energy resources into a source of prosperity for Maine, rather than yet another extractive source of poverty.

Today Maine has the chance to write its next energy chapter in a way that works for all. That opportunity is the independent nonprofit Pine Tree Power, proposed by the Our Power coalition.


Like public land, public power is a lasting gift. It welcomes everyone to share as equals in a crucial public resource, strengthening our communities and boosting our shot at a livable future. People and businesses in 97 of Maine’s 488 towns understand this because they already own their utilities. CMP and Versant charge 49% more for delivery of power than these nonprofit utilities, based in towns like Houlton, Madison, Calais and Kennebunk.

Consumer-owned utilities are not state run, as CMP’s ads claim. With no need to extract a profit from customers, they cost less. They do not use tax dollars but simply borrow at low rates, as needed, against their own future revenues. Most have no “government ownership,” unlike CMP and Versant, whose owners already include the governments of Calgary, Qatar and Norway.

Indeed, consumer-owned nonprofits serve over half of America’s 3.8 million square miles, and 28% of Americans. Their many benefits include lower costs, fewer outages and higher customer satisfaction.

Affordable, nonprofit electricity means more local jobs. As much of Maine loses forest product jobs, areas served by consumer-owned utilities are adding jobs. For instance, LP Houlton recently announced an investment of $150 million. This plant will be served by Houlton’s regional consumer-owned utility, where electricity costs are roughly half what CMP and Versant customers pay. And also this year, GO Lab in Madison secured investments totaling $130 million to buy and refit the former paper mill there. The Madison consumer-owned utility also serves Backyard Farms, another major agricultural employer and heavy user of Madison’s clean, affordable energy.

Maine’s factories understand the economics well. For them, a penny more per kWh in electricity costs can make the difference between staying in Maine, or going elsewhere. That’s why their association, the Industrial Energy Consumer Group, testified in favor of the proposal when it was before the legislature, helping push it to a bipartisan, majority vote of both the House and the Senate.

Amid the rising costs of energy, food and other necessities, Maine must make hard and structural choices to reduce the cost of electricity while transitioning away from fossil fuels.

As President Lincoln said, and as U.S. Sen. Angus King often repeats: This is a time to “think anew and act anew.”

If we are serious about switching to clean energy for all our needs, we can leave no Mainer behind. Public power gives us the best chance for the change we need.

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