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Consumer-owned Pine Tree Power will work for Maine people

Replacing CMP and Versant with a new company will strengthen our grid, reduce outages and lower rates for Maine families and businesses

Nathan Carlow is a Republican state representative from Buxton, a member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and a co-sponsor of L.D. 1708. Originally published in the Portland Press Herald on May 29, 2021 and republished here by permission of the author.

When I think about important reforms that are needed to improve the lives of Mainers, our electricity system is one thing that comes to the forefront of my mind. That’s one of the reasons why I have co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would establish consumer ownership of our power grid.

This bill, L.D. 1708, would create a new company called Pine Tree Power, replacing CMP and Versant. Pine Tree Power would be governed by a board of directors elected by you, the people of Maine, not by foreign, for-profit investors.

CMP and Versant have consistently failed to provide a basic level of service, and the people expect the Legislature to intervene. The law shields investor-owned utilities from competition, allowing CMP and Versant to operate with a monopoly of our power grid.

This system has been an unmitigated disaster. Maine ratepayers experience the worst service nationwide in terms of reliability and customer satisfaction, and are the 11th worst in affordability – charging 58 percent more than Maine’s existing consumer-owned utilities.

As a legislator and a school board member, I bring a unique perspective to this conversation. When I think about how our electric utilities are operated, I compare it to the crucial decisions that are made by school boards like mine. The decisions that school boards make have a significant impact on the quality of education, property taxes and more. This is why school board members are elected and are accountable only to those who they serve.

Could you imagine how ludicrous it would be if, instead of local boards of education making decisions for schools, we had foreign, investor-owned corporations setting policy, raising taxes and presiding over a steep decline in the quality of service? That sounds like a really bad idea, and clearly, it’s no way to operate the electric utilities that we depend on, either.

Electricity, like education, is absolutely central to our quality of life, and the future of the Maine people and the businesses that support our economy. Young Mainers, my contemporaries, will live with the decisions that we make today. These decisions will affect our prosperity, our businesses and the planet we leave to future generations as well.

Here’s the secret that the CMP lobby doesn’t want you to know: Investor-owned utilities cost more to operate than consumer-owned utilities, and the Pine Tree Power Co. legislation I have co-sponsored offers a common-sense way to strengthen our grid, reduce outages and lower rates for Maine families and businesses.

The bill supports Maine’s carbon-emission goals, so we can do our part to protect the natural resources Mainers cherish and depend on.

And in addition to protecting our lands and waters, the Pine Tree Power Co. will promote access to another vital resource: reliable broadband access. At a time when countless Mainers are working, learning and socializing remotely, this bill will promote broadband internet connection by establishing consumer ownership of the lines and poles across the state that deliver this critical technology to our homes.

Perhaps most importantly, the board of directors for this new company will be accountable only to the Maine people, and in so doing, it ensures that Maine is not reliant upon foreign corporations for their electricity.

These reforms will open a steady stream of investment into fixing our infrastructure, thus encouraging new people and businesses to come to Maine and stay in Maine.

This is a no-brainer, and that’s why I’m working with legislators from both parties to create Pine Tree Power, a Maine consumer-owned utility working only for the Maine people, not Spain, not Calgary and not profit-seeking investors in other parts of the world.

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