Question 3 seeks to buy out Maine’s two investor-owned utilities. Though the bill is 15 pages long, there is a lot yet to be clarified, like the purchase price, the interest rate and the fees we will pay the grid operator. We don’t know the duration or the cost of the legal battles, but we do know that all of these costs will be added to our rates. We don’t know the makeup of the board, let alone what direction they will take the new Pine Tree Power company.

The nonpartisan analysis of this idea emphasized the lack of certainty. The arcane details will have large impacts, and the experts I talk to have varying opinions on those issues. The lack of detail in the bill allows for a wide range of outcomes, and the effort to further study those areas was dropped.

Yet the proponents are claiming we will all save $375 per year, “right from day one.”

As Voltaire said, “Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”

There is nothing in this bill that convincingly demonstrates that it will provide better service, better reliability or lower costs than we currently have. Gov. Mills, the Public Advocate and many others have stressed that point. The proponents insist that everything is going to come up roses, but outside experts have largely panned their claims. The authors of the nonpartisan analysis sent a letter to the Energy Committee saying the proponents are “inappropriately adjusting (our) financial analysis of ratepayer impacts, which leads to an overstatement of projected benefits to ratepayers.”

Because I inherently prefer a publicly owned model, I initially believed this proposal would improve our situation. But it became clear to me that ownership structure is not the most important factor in how a utility performs. This referendum pursues an ideological goal without considering the significant risks to ratepayers, the grid’s functionality and Maine’s ambitious climate change agenda. It fails to consider the downsides, with too many supporters believing “it can’t get any worse,” though that is far from the truth.


Climate change demands a response as ironclad as our grandparents’ World War II effort. We already have the power to ensure our utilities do their part, so we have little to gain by experimenting with other ownership models. We need action, not distraction.

We need to transition away from fossil fuels, modernize the grid and protect those who are most at risk of the logistical and economic fallout of the change. We are passing new laws to ensure the utilities comply with the plan we have created. It requires a sustained effort from all sides, but we cannot work effectively with the utilities while also fighting in court to force them to sell.

Assuming Pine Tree Power won the court battles, the board would select and negotiate with grid operations contractors – or a single contractor, if they decide to unify the two utilities. Learning to manage the contractor is going to be a tall order for a board with low requirements for skills and experience, whether they try to run two utilities or merge them.

Long Island Power Authority, the only U.S. mainland utility that uses the model we are considering, has long struggled with rising costs and poor customer satisfaction. Introducing a bill in 2021 to overhaul the utility, New York legislators said, “For more than 25 years, this model has repeatedly failed its customers. There has been a lack of transparency, oversight, and accountability. That failure has been most dramatically evidenced in the unacceptable storm response by LIPA and its third-party contractors during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020.”

Maine has little to gain from this proposal, but we have so much to lose. Let’s choose our battle wisely, and vote “no” on Question 3.

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