The Universal Notebook: Power to the people

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Opponents of public power argue that taking over CMP and Versant will cost electric customers $13.5 billion. Proponents of public power insist that replacing the for-profit electric companies with a consumer-owned Pine Tree Power will save customers $9 billion.

My guess is that neither would be the case, but then I am old enough to remember when Maine Yankee nuclear power was sold to us with the promise that it would be “too cheap to meter.”

Edgar Allen Beem Still, I will be voting YES on November 7 in favor of public power and I will be urging everyone I know to do the same. Why? Because electrical power is too important to be left to the for-profit market. CMP has had a chance to serve Maine consumers and it has always put profit ahead of the public interest.

It is truly disheartening to depend for light and heat on a company that has such a reputation for lousy customer service. My own experience of CMP has not been all that bad, but CMP consistently ranks last in the East in customer satisfaction in J.D. Power’s surveys. Only one electric company in the whole country scores worse. Versant does hardly any better, ranking third worst in the country.

If CMP acknowledged, apologized and atoned for poor service, I could see giving it another chance to serve us, but the company’s response to criticism always seems to be denial, propaganda and requests for endless rate increases.

Together, CMP’s Spanish-owned parent company Avangrid and Versant’s Canadian parent Enmax have spent $18.4 million trying to defeat Pine Tree Power. That alone is a reason enough to vote YES.

Local control is another. Switching from foreign-owned utilities to a locally-owned Pine Tree Power makes good sense. CMP’s public relations campaign features aw-shucks good ole Maine boys like worker Jim Wright who adapted his well-known “No line is safe to touch. Evah.” power safety message to “Pine Tree Power is a risk Mainers can’t afford. Evah.” corporate survival message. But CMP is not a local company.

It is not for nothing that as Mainers face a decision about whether to adopt public power, Maine is also wrestling with whether to prohibit foreign entities (including foreign governments and companies partially owned by foreign governments) from spending money on our referendum campaigns. That’s because Canadian interests spent $22 million in 2021 trying to defeat the effort to shut down the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor across Maine from Canada to Massachusetts.

Maine did, in fact, vote to shut it down resoundingly, but the courts ruled in favor of CMP, Avangrid and Hydro Quebec on appeal, thwarting the will of the Maine people.

Banning foreign contributions would be a step in the right direction toward true campaign finance reform, which would also ban corporate and PAC contributions such that only individuals qualified to vote in an election would be allowed to contribute toward influencing that election.

Bottom line: it’s time to replace a power company that has threatened to disconnect 10 percent of its customers with a company that is owned by its customers. CMP and Versant have had their chances and they have failed. Now it’s time to give consumer-owned utilities a shot at serving Maine customers rather than just enriching shareholders.

Pine Tree Power, YES! Power to the people!

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen review column.

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