Maine citizens have an opportunity on Nov. 7 to vote on Question 3, the Pine Tree Power Company Initiative, to create a statewide publicly owned electricity transmission utility. This would replace Central Maine Power and Versant Power, investor-owned for-profit utilities, with which we are all familiar.

Among the advantages of the nonprofit Pine Tree Power would be its being closer to the people of Maine concerning cost of electricity and greater responsiveness to protecting the grid from the increasing frequency of storm-related outages. It would keep its revenue in Maine working for Maine people instead of sending profits to investors of CMP and Versant in foreign lands.

Equally important would be Pine Tree’s responsiveness to the state’s Climate Action Plan goal for carbon neutrality by 2045. Experts at the Princeton ZERO Lab and the U.S. Department of Energy tell us that the only way to accomplish carbon neutrality is for large-scale expansion of local and regional grids to closely connect expanding renewable electricity sources – solar, wind, geothermal, green hydrogen – to the state grid for the electrification of everything: transportation, homes and appliances, other buildings and industries. The state and regional grids also need to be interconnected to be able to shuttle power as needed between the power regions of the country. Example: The Gulf of Maine is slated to receive new University of Maine offshore floating wind turbines securing a large infusion of power for the whole state and region, but to fully benefit from this source, significant expansion of the state’s power grid is necessary.

Why would Pine Tree be better over the long haul for securing Maine’s expanded grid? Because, as a publicly owned utility, it would invest more responsively and, therefore, more rapidly in grid expansion over the long term toward securing Maine’s climate goals. In contrast, CMP and Versant would likely favor grid investments that produce the greatest short-term profits for their largely foreign shareholders rather than the state’s long-term goals.

The proposal that Question 3 presents is well-thought-out and detailed. Basically, state taxpayers would not be responsible for paying for the bonds to buy out CMP and Versant. Rather, a small portion of the ratepayers’ electricity bills would be devoted to paying down the bonds over nine years, until about 2032. Thereafter, expanding savings annually are projected for ratepayers. The bonds themselves would be lower interest than for investor-owned utilities. The same would hold for Pine Tree Power’s borrowing over time for critical grid expansions in pursuit of the state’s decarbonization goals.

Pine Tree Power, as a private nonprofit publicly owned utility, would be governed by a board composed of 13 members, all from Maine: seven members elected from five Maine Senate districts, and six expert members designated by the elected members. The expert members would “possess experience in utility law and management, concerns of utility employees and workers, concerns of commercial or industrial electricity consumers, technologies related to electricity, cybersecurity, and connectivity, climate mitigation and planning, and economic or social justice needs for low income or moderate income populations.” All current employees of CMP and Versant would automatically become employees of Pine Tree Power, unless they chose otherwise, and only the top management of CMP and Versant would be replaced by the Pine Tree Power board.

Maine voters are being afforded a rare opportunity through Question 3 to weigh in on effectively seizing the future by seriously advancing the state’s climate goals, securing long-term savings on the cost to consumers for electricity as well as greater responsiveness to problems as they may arise from a locally owned and managed Pine Tree Power company. This chance is not likely to arise again any time soon.

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