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John L. Clark of Linneus is a retired general manager of Houlton Water Company. Sharon A. Staz of Kennebunk is a former general manager and treasurer of Kennebunk Light & Power District.
To those of us who have worked for Maine’s consumer-owned utilities, the prospect of Maine creating a consumer-owned Pine Tree Power Company is a welcome opportunity. A bill, LD 1708, in front of the Legislature would do just that. We know; between us we have over 50 years of managing two such utilities right here in Maine.
An analysis commissioned by the Legislature, overseen by the Public Utilities Commission and completed by the independent London Economic International reported that LD 1708 is constitutional, forms an independent statewide consumer-owned electric utility that will reduce costs.
A consumer-owned utility is devoted 100 percent to serving its customers. Already serving 97 towns or parts thereof throughout Maine, these consumer-owned utilities have a proven track record of delivering locally controlled, reliable power. Consumer-owned Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative covers 77 of those Maine communities spanning an area twice the size of Rhode Island, while still providing efficient reliable power delivery.
Our boards are elected by the citizens of those communities and are charged with the fiduciary responsibility of the utility. Regulated returns on investments are dedicated to maintaining and improving the utility’s infrastructure or given back to the consumer via lower rates. All meetings and records of a consumer-owned utility are transparent and open to the public. Board meeting locations, dates and times are openly posted. All citizens are invited and encouraged to attend.
If a customer has a concern with a bill or a service question, we are there to listen and to positively resolve the issue together. Consumer-owned utilities serve approximately 49 million customers in over 2,000 cities and towns throughout the country.
All consumer-owned utilities are non-profit and issue bonds at extremely low interest rates. Maine’s Pine Tree Power Company will have these same attributes and will not use any state bonds or state tax dollars.
Why does all this matter? It means that over time, customers would pay much less to finance the infrastructure improvements we need to strengthen Maine’s electric grid in the areas of reliability, renewables and energy storage. Pine Tree Power would aggressively and efficiently make sure we meet customer climate, broadband and reliability goals.
Maine’s consumer-owned utilities are already at work on meeting these goals. In 2014, Kennebunk Light & Power District installed two solar powered EV charging stations to boost the tourist economy as well as to serve their residents. The solar arrays produce all the electricity needed for charging vehicles. In 2017, the utility signed a 20-year purchase agreement to buy power from a new solar array built in town by NextEra Energy, also saving customers’ money.
Houlton Water Company recently inked a new power supply agreement that decreased energy supply costs for its customers over 6 percent while ensuring 86 percent of the power comes from renewables. Houlton already exceeds the State of Maine goal to provide 80 percent renewables no later than 2030.
After installing its own small solar array at the Madison town-owned industrial park, in 2016 Madison Electric signed a 25-year power supply agreement with IGS for a solar array that provides about 20 percent of the town’s electricity needs.
The economic benefits of a non-profit consumer-owned utility are clear. We believe it is imperative to move forward and establish the consumer-owned Pine Tree Power Company. We believe this company would protect our environment, lower costs over the long term, increase the reliability of the grid and give residents a voice in the electric utility that will serve our state instead of sending profits to foreign countries.