A solar installation in Waterville. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Byers

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Chris Byers is the owner of Branch Renewable Energy in North Yarmouth.

I believe Question 3, which would attempt to forcibly takeover Maine’s two largest utility companies, is a risky idea that could limit our state’s ability to deploy renewable energy projects, create new clean energy jobs, and reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

I struggle with such an aggressive proposal that has no step-by-step plan on how Pine Tree Power will do a better job interconnecting renewable energy projects. This uncertainty will disrupt investment in new clean energy in Maine, forcing this necessary and growing industry to hit the pause button while politicians and lawyers battle for years about Maine’s energy future.  

I’ve worked at every stage of solar development — as a field installer, marketing manager, project manager and now as the owner of Branch Renewable Energy in North Yarmouth.

Working collaboratively with others, I’ve helped to develop more than 500 megawatts of solar projects in the Northeast, and led projects around the country and in Kenya and Haiti.

I understand that some Mainers are angry and frustrated with CMP and Versant, and as a solar developer I understand better than most that at times the companies can be difficult to work with. At the same time, there has been a lot of improvement in their capabilities not only from a staffing perspective, but also a process one, where they are able to gain experience just like the rest of us in our own day to day jobs.  

Simplistic talking and promises of a better system won’t make our electric grid any better. In fact, there’s a very real risk that things will get worse, with higher electricity rates, billions of dollars of debt and politicians in control of the vital infrastructure that’s necessary to keep the lights on and our economy running.

I’ve read the legislation behind Question 3 and Pine Tree Power, and I agree with Gov. Janet Mills that it’s the wrong solution to a series of complex challenges.

Maine has set an aggressive and admirable goal of  being carbon neutral by 2045.

We’re making progress. Already, our state produces 72 percent of its total electricity from renewable sources.

Since 2019, Mainers have installed more than 82,000 new heat pumps and nearly 10,000 homes have been weatherized. It’s progress that should make other states envious.

With Question 3, however, we are putting this progress at risk.

I live in Maine and my company is based here. My reputation is built on working with Maine communities to design and build solar projects that create jobs, protect our environment and benefit Maine people. It’s my passion, but when I look ahead to the chaos and confusion that Question 3 would create, I see that my home state is considering making it impossible for me to do business here.

We don’t have to guess about what could happen here.

Nebraska is the only state in the U.S. that has a grid structure similar to the one Pine Tree Power would create. Controlled by politicians, Nebraska ranks 35th overall all for energy efficiency, and 49th for grid modernization. Maine is 5th and 26th respectively. Yes. Rates are lower in Nebraska. Why? Because they burn a lot of coal, which is relatively cheap. And dirty.

There is a better solution to meeting our climate goals and improving Maine’s electricity grid than burning the entire system to the ground and hoping that whatever comes next is better.

Seizing private property, racking up enormous amounts of debt, years of costly lawsuits are a recipe for uncertainty and will drive vital clean energy investment away from out state, making our climate goals less attainable and undermining our economy.

That’s why I’m voting No on Question 3. It’s too risky, too costly and doesn’t have a plan to deliver on the promises made by its supporters.