broadband | climate change | decarbonization | energy economics | grid resilience | renewable energy | utility regulation

Statement by Seth Berry (D-Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Richmond)

Twelve score and six years ago today, the people of Lexington and Concord rose up against abuse by a foreign power whose only purpose was to extract wealth from its distant colonies.

Today, We — the people of Maine — rise to assert our power, and our independence. 

Our new bipartisan bill, “An Act to Create the Pine Tree Power Company,” will let us control our own money and our own energy destiny. It will let us advance both fast and fairly toward our own clean energy and connectivity future.

Our bill is new, improved, and better than ever.  Its full name is “An Act to Create the Pine Tree Power Company: A Nonprofit Utility to Deliver Lower Rates, Reliability, and Local Control for Maine Clean Energy Independence.” It does not have an L.D. number, but it will soon.

Every month, the 800,000 captive customers of CMP and Versant pay monopoly rent for the use of a monopoly grid. With Pine Tree Power, we will pay a lower monthly bill.  Equally important, it will no longer be a rental payment, but a mortgage payment. We will save money, invest in and improve the grid, and build our own equity. 

Last year, the Legislature received an independent feasibility study we had commissioned to assess this idea, both legally and economically.  Legally, the so-called LEI Report showed that the idea is rock-solid.  When a utility fails to perform, it can and should lose its legal monopoly privilege.  And economically, the study showed the idea would most likely save Maine hundreds of millions.  A subsequent review, by Dr. Richard Silkman, pegged the 30-year savings at $9 billion. The LEI Report also made some helpful recommendations, which we have incorporated.

In 2005, the people of Winter Park, Florida were tired of extended outages from hurricanes. So they voted to buy out their portion of a larger, for-profit utility. That large utility outspent this independence effort ten to one. They claimed the sky would fall, and the world would end.  So what did happen? Sixteen years later, the new nonprofit utility of Winter Park has buried almost all its power lines, and has almost no outages ever.  And as compared to the utility they separated from, rates are lower too. 

This same story has unfolded multiple times in other locations — and even statewide in Nebraska in the 1940s, thanks to a Republican US Senator named George Norris. 

Please note that to create Pine Tree Power we will use not a penny in tax dollars.  Please note that Pine Tree Power will not be statewide, since 97 towns are already served by existing COUs.  Please note that CMP and Versant top management will be replaced, but workers and middle management will keep their jobs and earn a bonus for making the transition. 

The people of Maine will directly elect all voting members of the nonprofit Pine Tree Power Company board. Board meetings will be fully public and transparent. The Pine Tree Power Company will abide by a clear and mandatory mission statement: improve our reliability and customer service, keep our rates low, and ensure that we meet or exceed our climate and connectivity goals.  

The Pine Tree Power Company will be operated fully in the private sector.  Let me say that again: IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR. In other words, the Pine Tree Power Company will have the best of both worlds. As a nonprofit, independent entity, it will be publicly accountable and have access to low-cost capital, allowing us to finance the tremendous transition that awaits us.  But with a top notch  operations team who replaces top management and is paid based on its performance, Pine Tree Power will also benefit from the sharpened pencils and competitive spirit of the commercial sector.  

History is a great teacher. Once upon a time, a backwater city in Tennessee had electricity only for the 5% who were white and wealthy.  All others languished in poverty and in the dark.  But then a consumer-owned utility was created in Chattanooga, and within only a few years the city was electrified, with every home able to afford lighting and radios and refrigerators from Sears and Roebuck. 

Fast forward to 2005, and a new inequality had emerged.  A few had expensive high speed cable Internet. but most did not.  So the city’s electrical utility went into broadband.  Fiberoptic cable was strung on every pole, connected to every building and every home.  Today, Chattanooga has emerged as the “Gig City,” with a bustling and entrepreneurial renaissance that is the envy of the nation, and with lightning-fast, affordable, gigabit service available to every home and business, rich and poor alike.  

This too is the power and potential of consumer ownership. 

The Pine Tree Power Company will reduce the costs and delays of pole access in our rural areas, working closely and proactively with our competitive internet service providers to light up every part of Maine with affordable, high-speed  internet.

This is an historical, watershed moment for electricity — and the Pine Tree Power Company is the right tool for the job.

Today, you’ve heard from just a few of my colleagues in the growing movement we call Our Power.  You’ve heard that from coast to coast, serving 1 in 3 Americans and 97 Maine towns, consumer-owned utilities are lower-cost, locally accountable, and twice as reliable.  You’ve heard that in Maine, CMP and Versant charge 58% more to deliver power than our outstanding, locally accountable COUs. You’ve learned that of the 12 top-rated utilities in the nation, 11 are COUs. And you’ve learned that all six US communities to have reached 100% renewables — all six — were powered by consumer-owned utilities.    

These are the facts about consumer ownership. They are the reasons we need this change  if we want a prosperous and equitable future for Maine.  You can leam more, take action, donate, and join us at ourpowermaine.org. We hope you will.

On this Patriot’s Day 2021, the people of Maine have news for today’s Great Proprietors of energy:  No longer will we relinquish Our Power.  From this Patriot’s Day forward, we will not rest until we are free of energy monopoly, energy colonialism, and energy tyranny. 

We will take back Our Power not because we are Republicans, Independents, or Democrats, but because we are Maine. We are proud of our heritage. We are proud of our work ethic and ingenuity and community spirit. We are proud of our strong tradition of self-governance. We intend to lift up every corner of our state. We intend to face our energy and climate future together, bound by our common enterprise, bound together by the common network of poles and wires and cables we will soon proudly call our Pine Tree Power Company.

We know we can not afford to keep trusting those who’ve proven, year after year, that they do not have our best interests in mind.  It is far, far too risky to keep accepting “IOUs” as an answer to our energy needs. 

So today, we declare our independence. Today, we bid au revoir and adios to the monopolists who claim to own our energy destiny.  Today we embrace our future; we embrace our possibility; we embrace OUR POWER — the power of our majestic Pine Tree State.

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