It’s interesting that in all the advertising against the idea of Pine Tree Power, nobody is saying, “Don’t get rid of CMP – we love CMP!” And we did once love Central Maine Power, back when it was locally owned and operated. I still respect the heck out of the actual line workers. Anyone who goes out when the power’s out – heck, anyone who is willing to climb a tree and work with live electric lines – is a badass in my book. That said, I think we all know that today’s CMP is not the CMP of 1998, and that can be traced back to when it was bought by Iberdrola in 2008.

Central Maine Power is an investor-owned utility. It is owned and operated for the profit of Avangrid, which owns it, and Iberdrola, which owns Avangrid. Iberdrola is a multinational corporation whose primary shareholders are the governments of Norway and Qatar, as well as the investment company Blackrock. Versant Power is owned by Enmax, which is owned by the city of Calgary, Alberta. Which is at least on the same continent that we are. And I have nothing against Norway, Qatar and Calgary, but providing Mainers with the cheapest, most reliable electricity possible is not in their best financial interest. They don’t live here. We do.

Pine Tree Power would be consumer-owned. I won’t rehash the specifics here, but roughly 25% of Americans receive their power from consumer-owned utilities, including Sacramento, California, and the entire state of Nebraska. Yep, ruby-red Nebraska has had publicly owned electric utilities for decades.

The current big scare tactics I’m seeing in the library of mailings that appear against my will in my mailbox (and which are promptly given to my dogs, Janey and Karma, to shred) are “Ooga booga boo! Maine taxpayers will be on the hook for billions of dollars!” First of all, the referendum – which would be literally the law if it passed – explicitly states “no use of state funds or dollars.”

“The politicians will control our electricity!” First of all, Pine Tree Power would be governed by a board of 13 members, seven of whom would be directly elected by Maine voters, the other six of whom would be chosen by the elected seven. All board members would have to be state residents. I would also like to point out that the state of Maine is still very much a democracy, and that our politicians are elected by us. Also, I don’t remember voting for anyone on CMP’s board. And I vote in every election.

I’m sure many of my readers think I’m a crazy socialist liberal – and I certainly have my moments – but I’ve thought long and hard about supporting the Pine Tree Power campaign. If someone proposed a mandatory buyout of, say, L.L.Bean or Bath Iron Works in order to create a consumer-owned business, I’d be against it. But the delivery of electricity is not a run-of-the-mill (literally!) business. A consumer can’t really opt out of it. An electric grid, by its very nature, has to be, physically, a monopoly. And historically, having a monopoly owned by investors seeking profits has not given very good results to consumers.


When I worked in a pulmonology department, I took a lot of phone calls from patients who needed a doctor’s note to prevent their electricity being shut off, because they had medical equipment – CPAP machines, oxygen tanks, ventilators, etc. – that they needed electricity to operate. I did not like getting those phone calls.

I don’t think Pine Tree Power will fix all our electric woes, especially not in the short term. I don’t think we’d see a huge price drop immediately. But I keep thinking about how, in 2022, CMP made $187 million in profit. That’s just profit. That’s left over for the investors after the operational expenses. What could that $187 million have done if it had been left here in Maine instead of sent to shareholders in other countries? Improved the grid so that power doesn’t go out as much? Hired more line workers so power could get back on more quickly? Invest in renewable energy, which will save both money and our planet in the long term?

CMP is going to spend as much money as it needs to in order to defeat the idea of Pine Tree Power, because CMP’s very existence is riding on this referendum. I would encourage you to read the full referendum proposal (it’s long) and take a look at the (very bipartisan!) list of supporters. And pay attention to the ad campaign. Notice how Maine Affordable Energy (one of the PACs that’s opposing the referendum, but that’s for another column) ads rely heavily on fear. Notice that they rely on attacking Pine Tree Power instead of defending CMP: because there’s nothing to defend.

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

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