Dueling campaigns for and against the creation of a consumer-owned electric utility in Maine each announced Monday that they had collected enough signatures to put their competing visions in front of voters in November 2023.

Our Power, the lead organizer behind the push for a consumer-owned electric distribution company, held a news conference in Augusta before presenting more than 80,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. The office must certify at least 63,067 signatures for the question to appear on the ballot.

The citizens initiative would create the Pine Tree Power Co., described as a privately operated, nonprofit utility run by a 13-member board.

The utility’s stated goal would be to provide reliable, affordable electric transmission and distribution services, and to help meet Maine’s climate, energy and connectivity goals. It would not generate power or sell electricity supply.

The Pine Tree Power initiative, above

Pine Tree Power would replace Maine’s two investor-owned utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant Power, which critics assail for high rates, poor performance and customer dissatisfaction.


Our Power submitted its signatures on Halloween, and used the day to make a statement.

“Until we take back our power, CMP and Versant will play every trick in the book, and take all the candy in the bowl,” said Andrew Blunt, Our Power’s executive director.  “They will spend tens of millions more on misleading ads. They will come away from the (Public Utilities Commission) with 11.5% and 17.5% rate hikes, like last year, and still demand 30% more, like they did this year.”

Blunt was referring to rate hikes in 2021 and ongoing cases at the PUC involving both CMP and Versant for distribution rate requests, due to be decided in 2023. However, CMP’s distribution rate did drop by 5.5% this year.

These rates are separate from those charged for default electricity supply, which are selected by the PUC following bids from private generators – not CMP or Versant. Those rates also have seen a steep jump and are due to go higher. Taken together, the rising cost of electricity is an increasing burden on Mainers and will likely be a factor in how voters consider these ballot questions.

The No Blank Checks initiative, above

The effort to force the sale of CMP and Versant’s assets is strongly opposed by a business and labor coalition called Maine Affordable Energy. The group has conducted the No Blank Checks campaign aimed at forcing a statewide vote on any new government debt of over $1 billion, with exceptions for debt issued by a handful of agencies that include the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Finance Authority of Maine.


The group announced Monday that it had collected 92,164 signatures to put the issue on the ballot next November.


Monday’s opposing announcements foreshadow fundamentally different views of what might unfold.

An ongoing point of debate is how long the buyout could take, the combined value of CMP and Versant’s assets, and when – or if – customers would start seeing potential savings.

Maine Affordable Energy estimates the process and expected legal challenges could take 10 years and cost electric customers $13.5 billion to pay off the debt associated with taking over two private companies.

“When the Legislature first studied a proposal to seize Maine’s private electric utilities three years ago, no one really knew what it would cost Maine electric customers,” Willy Ritch, executive director of No Blank Checks, said in a statement. “We now know that the cost will be billions of dollars, yet the organizers behind Pine Tree Power would prefer Mainers not know the true cost of the takeover.”


Our Power disagrees with that assessment. The group says the buyout would take three to four years and cost less, and notes the total value of CMP’s and Versant’s assets is around $3.3 billion.

Our Power also says customers would begin saving money immediately after the sale, even including the initial cost of the buyout, because Pine Tree Power would be able to borrow money for operations and maintenance at roughly one-third the cost that CMP and Versant can.

Another key point of dispute is whether Pine Tree Power would be “government run.”


The utility would be governed by a board of 13 voting members; seven would be elected to represent five state Senate districts. Six would be designated experts chosen by the seven elected members. The actual grid operation would be overseen by a third-party private contractor hired by the board.

But opponents say they refer to Pine Tree Power as “government controlled” because it would be a quasi-municipal entity. Pine Tree Power’s elected board would be eligible for taxpayer funding under the Maine Clean Election Act.


The utility wouldn’t serve the 97 small Maine communities that already have some form of cooperative or public power utility, such as Kennebunk Light & Power and Madison Electric Works.

Although any votes are more than a year away, Maine Affordable Energy already has spent $10.4 million in attempts to sway public opinion. The money comes exclusively from an arm of CMP’s domestic parent company, Connecticut-based Avangrid Inc., according to Maine campaign finance reports. Roughly $3.7 million has been spent on social media and online advertising and another $3.6 million on professional services.

Our Power has taken in $526,000 in contributions, the records show, given mostly by individuals.

It’s not clear what would happen if both referendums were to pass next November. Ritch said his group’s legal research suggests that voters would then be asked at a future election whether or not they approve the debt caused by seizing the utilities. However, Emily Cook, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office, said that such a conclusion involves interpreting the text of the referendum questions, and the office isn’t prepared to comment on that now.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.