The existing proposal for the creation of the publicly controlled nonprofit utility Pine Tree Power – Question 3 on the November ballot – comes with major unknowns that stand in the way of our editorial board’s support.

Faced with the soaring cost of living and the demands of the climate emergency, many Mainers are asking: Why not? 

This board has to ask: Why? We share in the frustration with the poor performance of Central Maine Power and Versant, the assets of which would be acquired under the proposal. We’re alarmed by the specter of underinvestment in grid modernization, integration of renewable energy and climate resilience.  

In theory, stopping hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from leaving the state and instead investing them in Maine infrastructure is sensible and promising, as is the long-term benefit of the much lower cost of borrowing available to a nonprofit company.

In practice, nobody has taken over two statewide utilities before. Successful publicly owned utilities have been built from the ground up or involved takeovers at a smaller scale.

If Question 3 is approved, Pine Tree Power will have to engage one or more third parties to run the transmission and distribution system. Third-party operators bidding for the business will be required to keep on non-executive employees from CMP and Versant.


The proposal calls for an operator “fitness test” based on a list of eight deal-breaking criteria. We won’t know for months if a single company fits the bill; it’s possible that Pine Tree Power will wind up hiring separate entities for separate business functions. 

Supporters of Question 3 suggest that this entity or entities can be easily found; that – despite the likelihood of it being another large for-profit company – it could be a not-for-profit group; and that it could even be a group of committed individuals with the right managerial experience.

In short, there are a lot of different ways this could go. For an ultimate assignment as serious and complex as distributing renewable energy across our state, this is too unsettled. 

While Pine Tree Power supporters say the new utility would prioritize lower costs, better reliability of service and better uptake of clean energy, these three goals often conflict. Adding a political layer to the undertaking – the new company would be overseen by a 13-member board, seven representing state Senate districts and six chosen by those seven elected members, all to be residents of Maine – risks further complexity. 

The six board appointees “must collectively possess expertise and experience” in six named arenas, ranging from utility management to environmental and social justice. 

The terms and conditions set out for the expert side of the board, while well-intentioned, leave too much wiggle room. When it comes to accessing diverse and useful professional experience at scale, it may also be short-sighted to exclude prospective members located beyond Maine. 


Additionally, we can’t know what Pine Tree Power will cost our state without voting for it. 

In the absence of any robust independent projections, we’re reliant on estimates from opponents and detractors, neither of which carry the needed weight of a range arrived at by an impartial analyst. 

A price tag of $13.5 billion, a regular on our airwaves and repeated by Gov. Mills and other officials, was arrived at by consultants for CMP and Versant. A local lawyer’s estimate put it at $7.5 billion. The trouble is we have no idea. 

The duration and expense of the legal challenge to Pine Tree Power, if it passes, is also the subject of disagreement (supporters say between three and four years, opponents say 10). What’s not up for debate is the fact that, in that period, any investment that isn’t absolutely essential, including investment supporting climate goals, will be put on hold.

If not Pine Tree Power, then what?

The delivery of electricity, like other essential services, falls under government oversight. Where the regulated public utilities tasked with delivering electricity fall short, or take advantage of consumers, that regulation has failed. 


The Pine Tree Power campaign has led to a heightened focus on our energy grid by the public and improved energy literacy across the board. This has already applied pressure on Augusta.

The Legislature passed a law last year, L.D. 1959, aimed at holding utilities accountable when they fall short on customer service, reliability and clean-energy integration.

It’s a good start, though still too gentle on the utilities. Gov. Mills and the Legislature must prove themselves capable of putting new pressure on CMP and Versant, with real penalties applying when they fall short as they have in the past.

The documented failures of the utilities are not enough by themselves to warrant a “yes” vote on Question 3. A “yes” vote demands more assurances that no unforeseen problems would take the place of the problems we want to be rid of.

There’s not enough evidence that Pine Tree Power would be an improvement on what we have now. For that reason, we endorse a “no” on Question 3.

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