This November, we are voting on the Pine Tree Power referendum — a proposal to seize the state’s utilities and create a state-run power authority. Take it from someone who worked for the government-owned electric utility on Long Island, New York: putting politicians in charge of the power grid is a really bad idea.

I knew it at the time and am even more convinced now that I’m working for Central Maine Power.

At CMP, people take tremendous pride in their jobs and as a result, work hard. It’s a culture that runs throughout the company from the top down starting with our new president, Joe Purington. It’s been awesome seeing the shift in attitudes and the level of accountability he’s brought. He’ll show up in the middle of a weekend storm to make sure everyone’s doing okay. You’d never find that on Long Island.

New York politicians set up the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to relieve the existing utility of its bad decision to build a nuclear power plant. The utility was in such tough financial shape that it willingly sold its assets to LIPA. It was an agreed upon transaction that took 13 years to finalize.

The price in 1998 was over $6.5 billion, a debt incurred by the state that continues to be passed along to ratepayers today. In fact, the debt has grown, rather than shrunk, and now stands at $9 billion.

Why is this relevant to Maine? LIPA’s structure is the only one like it in the country, and it’s similar to what Pine Tree Power is proposing here.


LIPA is headed up by political appointees who oversee the organization and make all the significant decisions. I wouldn’t be surprised to find at times that not one LIPA board member knew anything about the power grid or had ever even used a screwdriver. Similarly, Pine Tree Power would be headed up by politicians, though most of them will be elected. The concern is the same – how well will they understand the power grid? After all, qualifications aren’t required to win an election.

Another similarity between LIPA and Pine Tree Power: a separate, private utility company, is contracted to manage the power grid’s day-to-day operations. LIPA is now on its second private utility company. The first was tossed following a scathing report about LIPA’s horrendous performance during Super Storm Sandy that included criticisms about increasing rates, customer accountability and infrastructure investments. ‘Dysfunctional’ was one of the words used to describe LIPA in the report.

I worked for PSEG Long Island, the second private utility company hired by LIPA. PSEG LI was an awesome company with a great reputation. But that doesn’t help when decisions are made by a political body that doesn’t know the first thing about running a substation, let alone an entire grid.

High hopes for PSEG LI faded as rates continued to rise and Tropical Storm Isaias hit during the pandemic. At the time of the storm, PSEG LI was undertaking a project to upgrade its restoration and communications software. Those of us working on it knew it shouldn’t be going live and tried to warn management. But somebody was pushing to roll it out. When Isaias struck, the systems collapsed, and the response was atrocious. An investigation revealed one million customers tried calling only to get busy signals. Another 300,000 sent texts that were never received.

Though both LIPA and PSEG LI were responsible, only PSEG LI was hung out to dry. From my perspective, LIPA hadn’t allocated money to modernize a grid that relied on vintage equipment. Bandages were applied rather than fixing the root of the problems. That’s fine until you get hit by storms that flatten your service territory. The same thing could easily happen here under Pine Tree Power as politicians focus on keeping rates low rather than making investments to strengthen our grid.

Maine voters should let Long Island’s experience serve as a warning about the consequences Pine Tree Power and a government-owned utility could bring. We need to ask ourselves if we want to end up the same way — with higher electric rates, an aging grid, poor customer service, increasing debt, and even more politicians. I hope not.

Andrew Rabbe, a West Bath resident, is a substation supervisor at Central Maine Power. 

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