An unusual battle is unfolding in Maine. Voters will decide on Nov. 7 whether the state can buy the state’s two for-profit utilities and turn them into a publicly owned utility, “Pine Tree Power.” (Currently, the for-profits are state-regulated monopolies.)
The conflict is extraordinary because it involves many claims of savings, climate success, and eminent domain rights that are hard to take at face value.
The fundamental reason for the referendum may be consumer frustration with poorly operated companies. Here’s what Julian Spector of the left-leaning Canary Media says:
“Advocates of the change say enough is enough: Maine’s monopoly utilities are among the least popular in the nation, and changing the system could improve now-unreliable service and lower costs by stripping the profit motive away from electricity provision. In the last few years, a shockingly high percentage of Mainers have received erroneous utility bills, sometimes with devastating consequences for families. Now’s their chance to flip the power dynamic.”
Indeed, the two utilities (one with a Canadian owner, the other with a Spanish one) have been ranked at the bottom of two national consumer-satisfaction surveys.
But the issue is also wrapped in high-minded purposes such as preventing global warming. For example, Spector writes:
“Initiative organizers say breaking free from utility profit incentives is necessary to reshape Maine’s electricity grid for rapid decarbonization, as required to limit global warming below wildly catastrophic levels. It’s an argument that climate hawks around the country have made: The century-old utility business model stands in the way of real climate progress.”
Certainly, there are problems with “the century-old utility business model.” But public ownership will solve them?
So far, polls indicate that the referendum question will not pass, especially since there is a utility-backed alternative on the ballot.
For a somewhat different viewpoint, see “Maine’s Political Pulse” by Steve Mistler and Kevin Miller, published by Maine Public Radio.
Image of Maine’s Camden Hills State Park by Dougtone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.