The citizens group behind the campaign to take over Maine’s two electric utilities announced a major endorsement Thursday from U.S. senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

“This year, Mainers are facing price-gouging and immoral disconnection notices from multinational utility companies. Power belongs in the hands of the people, not greedy corporations,” Sanders said in a statement provided by Pine Tree Power. “Fortunately, Mainers have a rare chance to take control of an important part of their daily lives. Instead of a private power system that last year sent $187 million in profits out of the country, Mainers can have cheaper, more reliable power – and help fight climate change at the same time.”

Election 2024 Democrats

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., responds to another Senator’s remarks during testimony by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on March 29, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

The endorsement by Sanders, the independent from Vermont and longtime liberal icon, comes as Pine Tree Power is being outspent 17-1 by the utilities that are fighting for their survival. The parent companies of Central Maine Power and Versant Power – Avangrid and Enmax, respectively – have given more than $18 million so far to three ballot committees.

They are urging Mainers to reject a ballot question in November that will read: “Do you want to create a new power company governed by an elected board to acquire and operate existing for-profit electricity transmission and distribution facilities in Maine?”

The proposal for the new plan would create an elected 13-member board made up of a mix of residents from across the state and designated experts. The board would hire a private, for-profit grid operator chosen through a competitive bidding process.

If Mainers vote yes, they’d make history – endorsing a first-of-its-kind plan to create a state-level public power company through a hostile takeover. Supporters want to buy out the assets of Central Maine Power and Versant Power – which distribute 97% of the state’s electricity – and replace them with Pine Tree Power, a new not-for-profit distribution utility.


Supporters say a locally owned utility can provide better service to customers at a lower cost. Opponents say the plan is risky and short on details about costs long term.

“Mainers are overwhelmingly opposed to Pine Tree Power because they don’t like the idea of seizing the state’s electric grid, running up $13 billion in debt and putting politicians in charge,” said Willy Ritch, spokesman for Maine Affordable Energy, the political action committee backing the existing utilities. “And I don’t think Mainers like the idea of an out of state politician telling them how to vote on such an important issue.”

Sanders has long been a voice against powerful corporations and their profit interests, so his support of Pine Tree Power makes sense.

“Bernie Sanders knows that Pine Tree Power offers Maine a worthy alternative to CMP and Versant’s plan to bleed us dry with continued rate hikes,” Pine Tree Power campaign manager, Al Cleveland said of the endorsement. “We are proud to have him standing alongside Mainers as we fight our investor-owned utilities — with their worst in the nation customer satisfaction, abysmal reliability, and $27 million attempt to buy this election.”

Pine Tree Power supporters are hoping Maine voters who are feeling the pain of increases in their electric bill will support their initiative, although this referendum would only affect the distribution part of consumer utility bills, not the supply portion.

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