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Susan Inches is an author, teacher and environmental advocate from North Yarmouth.
There is broad agreement that our electric grid infrastructure needs to be upgraded. Power outages in Maine are among the most frequent and longest in the country and solar farms often wait months — sometimes over a year — to be connected to the grid. Both show that our grid is not up to what we are asking of it.
Electricity demand is expected to grow as electric vehicles, heat pumps and renewables come on line. Experts say that Maine’s grid will need to handle at least 30 percent more energy in the future than it does now. And, if commercial enterprises run on electricity, that number could be much larger. In 2021, Central Maine Power had active requests for 2,000 megawatts of solar projects, but the current grid is designed to handle a peak load of only 1,700 megawatts, the company said in 2021. Our grid cannot handle this growth, without significant new investment.
The current owners of our electric grid, CMP and Versant Power, have been unable to meet our renewable energy needs. But I believe Pine Tree Power can and will meet our needs, if voters support it in November.
Pine Tree Power can save ratepayers billions through lower financing rates. Specifically, Pine Tree Power can invest in the grid at nonprofit interest rates of 2 percent to 4 percent, where CMP and Versant must invest at corporate interest and return on equity rates of 8 percent to 12 percent. The difference in these rates adds up to a savings of $9 billion over the next 30 years, according to one analysis. This means the average Maine homeowner could save $367 every year with Pine Tree Power.
Pine Tree Power can also save ratepayers by not having to pay profits to shareholders. In 2022, $187 million left Maine, in the form of net profit to shareholders of CMP and Versant, according to filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This number is expected to grow, as the companies continue to ask for rate increases.
As a nonprofit, Pine Tree Power would have no shareholder obligations. This can free up excess revenue to be used to lower rates, or reinvest in the grid. Consumer-owned utilities in Maine and elsewhere typically have lower rates than corporate owned utilities.
Pine Tree Power would change the ownership and financing of our electric utilities, not the staffing. The law behind Pine Tree Power requires that all current staff be offered employment, with a signing bonus to sweeten the deal. The union contract would be honored.
So those who work for CMP and Versant now can keep their jobs, if they want them. Our local power company employees have served us well, and we hope they will continue to do so.
Pine Tree Power is an independent nonprofit. There’s no affiliation between Pine Tree Power and our state government.
Pine Tree Power would be governed by a board of directors consisting of seven members elected by voters and six industry experts, appointed by the elected board. The experts are required to have knowledge of industry finance, operations and regulation — as defined in the referendum statute.
Discussion of how to bring our electric power back under local control began in 2018. Two bills were presented to the Legislature in 2020 and 2021 and lawmakers heard testimony from more than 200 people.
The views of homeowners and Maine businesses were carefully considered by the policy committee of Our Power as the proposal was developed by the policy committee of Pine Tree Power, which was comprised of about a dozen volunteers with expertise in electric utilities and public policy. More than 65,000 Maine voters signed the referendum petition.
Please vote yes for Pine Tree Power in November. I believe it’s our best chance for a robust, reliable and affordable electric grid that will serve Maine’s current and future needs.