Public Retirement Plan

Gov. Janet Mills says she opposes Question 3, the ballot measure calling for the takeover of investor-owned utilities and creating a publicly controlled utility instead. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday strongly criticized a statewide ballot measure that would replace Maine’s two investor-owned utilities with a publicly owned power company, urging voters to reject the proposal.

The Democrat said establishing Pine Tree Power, as backers call it, to replace Central Maine Power and Versant Power would cost as much as $13.5 billion in borrowed money, which is more than the $9.8 billion two-year state budget.

“The cost alone leaves me very concerned that we are proposing to mortgage the future of our children who are going to have to foot this bill years down the road,” Mills said in a radio address and commentary posted on her website.

The cost cited by Mills is debatable. Critics of the two utilities say Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filings show CMP’s and Versant’s net assets were about $5.4 billion in 2022.

Mills also cited a report by the state Office of the Public Advocate that there is no guarantee the price of electricity would drop in the long run if the ballot measure passes on Election Day Nov. 7.

Asked for comment, CMP deferred to the Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, a group funded by Avangrid, which owns the utility and is fighting the Pine Tree Power proposal. Willy Ritch, chief executive of the group, said Mills’ comment is nonpartisan and “nonideological” and reflects criticism he said he hears from voters about the proposal’s cost, “added layer of bureaucracy” and possibility of lengthy litigation.


In an emailed statement, Pine Tree Power said the ballot measure is a response to poor customer service and electric reliability on the part of CMP and Versant.

“We aren’t looking to politicians like Gov. Mills to tell us how to vote this fall,” the group said. “Mainers are looking at our electric bills, neighbors and the existing consumer-owned utilities across the state that save people money.”

Versant praised Mills’ “thoughtful examination” of the proposal.

“Versant Power is focused on serving our customers with safe and reliable electricity and committed to meeting the increasingly stringent service quality standards put in place by the Maine Public Utilities Commission,” the utility said in an emailed statement.

Mills criticized backers of Question 3 for using “slick slogans” and “poll-tested talking points.” She questioned the structure of Pine Tree Power, which would be run by a board of seven elected officials whom she called “politicians, with no particular credentials.” The seven board members would appoint six others.

“Electing people only injects a level of politics and partisanship into the delivery of our electricity. That’s the last thing we need, and, hey, I’m talking as a politician,” Mills said.


The governor called the proposal a “hostile takeover” of the two utilities using eminent domain that she said would guarantee a legal dispute that could last for years “if not decades.”

“That leaves our utilities in a dangerous state of limbo when we can least afford it,” she said. “It also threatens to set back the progress we are making in modernizing the electric grid to achieve clean energy goals and address climate change.”

Mills vetoed legislation in 2021 proposing a forced buyout of Maine’s two largest electric utilities, saying the measure could create more problems than it solves. The Legislature sustained her veto, falling short of the two-thirds vote necessary for an override

She criticized the performance of Maine’s utilities as “abysmal,” citing billing errors, rate increases, delays following power outages and confusion over solar projects. The governor said she was open to the concept outlined in the bill, saying “it may well be that the time has come” for Mainers to “retake control” of the utilities’ assets. But she criticized the legislation as hastily drafted and amended without robust public participation.

Mills last year signed into law legislation she proposed that requires CMP and Versant to submit report cards to state regulators on performance metrics and calls for fines if a utility fails to meet the standards for one year.

Backers of Question 3 have criticized CMP for wide-scale billing errors several years ago and say a newly established utility will be controlled locally, in contrast to Versant, owned by a Canadian-based company, and Avangrid, which is owned by Iberdrola, a Spanish company.

Proponents also say a nonprofit utility similar to municipal and cooperative utilities could tap capital markets at lower interest rates in search of funding to build out Maine’s power grid as it’s forced to accommodate greater electrification in response to climate change.

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