Stop the Maine Power Grab | Council For Citizens Against Government Waste

Stop the Maine Power Grab

The WasteWatcher

The 2023 elections include a series of ballot initiatives that will adversely impact taxpayers, in some cases for decades into the future.  Perhaps the most damaging of these proposals is Maine Question 3 which, if approved, would create a new quasi-governmental Pine Tree Power Company empowered to use eminent domain to seize the state’s two investor-owned utility companies, Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant Power, and give the new company control of 97 percent of Maine’s power market, which serves more than 830,000 customers.

Concerned that taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill should the new company mismanage its finances, voters approved the inclusion on the ballot of Maine Question 1, which would limit the ability of publicly-owned utility companies, including the Pine Tree Power Company, to incur debt.  The measure would require a statewide public referendum to approve any debt issuance by a public utility in excess of $1 billion.

Purchasing the assets of CMP and Versant Power could cost up to $13.5 billion, with up to $500 million interest payments alone.  The interest payments would be passed on to ratepayers in the form of higher electricity bills.  The purchase would consume more than 20 percent of Maine’s 2022 $64.8 billion GDP, and dwarf the state government’s $445 million Fiscal Year 2024 budget.  If the Pine Tree Power Company attempted to use eminent domain to offer a lesser sum, Versant Power and CMP would likely challenge the takings in court for failure to uphold their constitutional right to “just compensation.”  Defending against any such litigation would raise costs even further for ratepayers.

Disruptions caused by this power grab could also jeopardize the reliability of the electric grid and have a chilling effect on further private investment in Maine’s infrastructure.  A publicly-owned utility would likely operate less efficiently and effectively than the existing investor-owned utilities, and handing control of the grid to elected officials opens the door to the potential for political interference.

Opponents of Question 3 include labor leaders like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Maine AFL-CIO, who together represent more than 40,000 workers.  They are concerned that the potential for reclassification of their members as public employees would weaken their ability to engage in collective bargaining, and that public ownership of the utilities would politicize the power grid.  A spokesperson for the IBEW explained that by putting “politicians who have no utility experience in charge, the decisions on how to invest in the grid would be driven by thoughts of the next election, not what’s best for workers and customers over the long term.”

Question 3 fails to prescribe the maximum price taxpayers would be willing to pay to buy out the two utilities, leading Maine lawmakers to express their concern about the uncertainty surrounding how the measure will affect state finances.  Retired state representative Charlotte Warren (D-Hallowell) told Spectrum Local News, “We’re going to go to the ballot, we’re going to ask you all to vote but we don’t know what it’s going to cost.”  Governor Janet Mills (D), who vetoed a 2021 utility buyout bill that would have seized CMP and Versant Power, also shared her concern that the measure proposes to “mortgage the future of our children who are going to have to foot this bill years down the road.”  Even Al Cleveland, campaign manager for the Pine Tree Power initiative, admitted the debt will take decades to pay off.

Maine voters should reject politicizing the grid, costly public debt, and the power grab by voting No on Question 3.

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