Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, is leading a bipartisan group of lawmakers to float a new proposal for a consumer-owned utility that would be independent and have a voter-elected board. Credit: Caitlin Andrews / BDN

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Ethan: A disclaimer on this week’s topic. I am very proud that my partner is running the campaign to kick Central Maine Power out of Maine and create a consumer-owned utility. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a power company that charges almost 60 percent less than CMP, would be more reliable than CMP, and would operate with local accountability and transparency, unlike CMP.

Phil: My heart be still. A multi-billion dollar government takeover of our utilities that will distribute pots of gold to every Mainer! Do we get unicorns and leprechauns, too?

Ethan: Sorry, guy. No government takeover here. Just a new private nonprofit corporation, called Pine Tree Power, run by a board of directors who would be elected by, and answer to, the people of Maine. And only the people of Maine. 

Phil: Having been an elected official, I can attest that electing a company’s leadership by ballot box is rarely a good idea.

Ethan: And having a company’s leadership appointed by a Spanish multinational corporation is a good idea? Your choice of ownership has left CMP rated as the utility with the worst customer satisfaction in the country.

Phil: The vice chair of their board is a former Maine governor. That seems like local representation to me. And if people have an issue with CMP, they can go to the Public Utilities Commission or the public advocate. And if the commission isn’t doing its job, then Gov. Janet Mills shouldn’t have appointed a political crony as chair.

Ethan: No matter how strong you make the utilities commission, you can’t get around CMP’s failures and its ties to foreign governments and global banks. Besides the worst customer satisfaction, they have the most frequent and second longest outages in the nation, and Maine’s electricity rates are the 10th highest in the country.

Phil: And somehow you think creating a government-owned monopoly through electoral politics will reduce rates. What is it about competition that you don’t understand?

Ethan: Once again, saying it’s “government owned” over and over does not make it true (although I am sure CMP will try the same tactic). But private for-profit monopolies have no incentive to reduce rates or provide better service. One that’s accountable to us, will.

Phil: Less competition is never an answer to not enough competition. 

Ethan: It isn’t less competition, because we have none now. It’s simply swapping out private investors for consumers. It’s the difference between the bulk of the profits going to Spain or to Mainers. I choose Mainers.

Phil: Did I mention something about unicorns and leprechauns?

Ethan: Just look at what current consumer-owned utilities in Maine charge their customers in comparison. We have 97 towns covered by consumer-owned power plants and, on average, they charge 58 percent less than CMP and Versant. That’s 58 percent!

Phil: Comparing a consumer-owned utility that covers the tiny island populations of Isle Au Haut or Matinicus to a statewide company that must serve more than a million people is a bit far-fetched. 

Ethan: It’s not just Islands. Kennebunk, Madison and Houlton also have consumer-owned utilities.

Phil: Lovely places, but the population of those three towns combined is less than 20,000 people. But tell me, how exactly are you going to buy out CMP and Versant? You do know our Constitution requires “just compensation” for any property we take. Do you have a spare $13 billion sitting around? 

Ethan: That $13 billion figure comes from CMP and Versant, and it’s most likely wrong. However, with low-interest revenue bonds, projections show the consumer-owned utility throwing off $9 billion in savings over the next 30 years, so it will easily pay for itself.

Phil: And when the first ice storm hits that requires replacing millions of dollars worth of downed power lines, who will be on the tab for that? You and me, my friend. 

Ethan: But we already are. CMP just asked for a 9.6 percent increase in rates to pay for storm damage from this past winter. 

Phil: That’s because every Maine winter has storm damage. But you know what we don’t have? Unicorns and leprechauns.

Ethan: Definitely not, but I believe in them more than I believe CMP will ever put Mainers first.