Politics & Other Mistakes: A better bad idea

advertisementSmiley face

I’m a big believer in guarantees, which is why I’m a sucker for pills advertised on the internet that promise to make me thinner, younger, smarter, taller, cuter and more virile. That none of that has occurred doesn’t discourage me, because, as I mentioned, all those little capsules are guaranteed. If things don’t improve soon, I’ll just notify the sellers and get a full refund.

I’ll use that to pay the overdue electric bill I couldn’t afford because I spent all my money on pills. In the meantime, I’ll write this column on an old typewriter by candlelight.

While I wait for Central Maine Power to turn the juice back on, I’m heartened to learn of another guarantee being proposed by Our Power, the group pushing a referendum to have the state buy out CMP and replace it with a publicly owned utility. In the past, I’ve been hesitant to support that proposal because it seemed likely such a move would cost a lot more than it would save.

Al DiamonNo worries. Our Power now has a bill before the Legislature that guarantees that won’t happen. Also, it will lower my blood-sugar level and eliminate my hemorrhoids.

If the buyout of CMP (and Versant Power) is approved by voters this November, this legislation would require the state Public Utilities Commission to determine if the shift to public ownership would save money. If the PUC didn’t find it was “reasonably likely” the new entity would immediately reduce electric bills by 10 percent or more without using any tax dollars, the takeover would be null and void.

In other words, this law (which hasn’t yet been passed) would guarantee that another law (which also hasn’t yet been passed) could only go into effect if the PUC (which might decide to take a pass) can somehow determine if it’ll work just the way its supporters say it should (the equivalent of passing gas).

Is there a pill for that?

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Valli Geiger of Rockland, testified before a legislative committee, “With both CMP and Versant requesting a 30-percent rate hike at the PUC at this moment, a rate decrease of 10 percent may seem hard to imagine.” (Could someone please turn off the massive understatement alert.) Geiger continued, “Today, we ask you to make this a guarantee.”

There’s that sweet, sweet word. How could I resist?

Well, there is the little matter of a study the PUC commissioned three years ago from the consulting firm London Economics International. It showed that buying out CMP would raise rates in the immediate future, but lower them eventually. By eventually, the consultants meant something in the neighborhood of 30 years.

The Our Power folks dispute that, pointing to their own estimates that show $9 billion in immediate savings. Which looks like a lot, until you compare it to CMP’s claim that the buyout would cost over $13 billion. Which looks like a lot, until you compare it to common sense that says both figures are probably grossly inflated if not heavily fictionalized.

What Our Power is trying to do with this bill is counteract CMP’s strongest argument against the takeover: that it will increase monthly electric bills. Seth Berry, ex-legislator and driving force behind the buyout, testified at the public hearing on the measure that it would provide “some certainty” the nightmare scenario being promoted by the power company would never happen.

As I know from internet ads promising to rid me of toenail fungus, “some certainty” is not quite the same as “guaranteed or your money back.” The latter is death and taxes. The former is more like stock in Silicon Valley Bank.

CMP is immensely unpopular, so the referendum may pass in spite of any qualms voters have concerning the finances of the deal, about which they’re already being subjected to a barrage of advertising (the power company has spent nearly $13 million to date, mostly on TV and online spots). It remains to be seen whether emotion (mostly hatred of CMP) trumps economics (mostly impossible to verify).

In that contest, there are no guarantees.

Have you tried that miracle nose-hair remover? Email your results to [email protected].

Smiley face