Commentary: Pine Tree Power wrong for Maine

By Tim Plouff and Alan Baker

A group of power revisionist proponents, including local Rep. Nicole Grohoski, seeks to seize the assets of Central Maine Power and Versant to create Pine Tree Power, a government-run utility that would control electricity delivery to the majority of Maine consumers, both business and residential. There has never been a takeover of an electric power utility this large anywhere in the country.

While these proponents mask the cost of their effort, initial estimates are north of $13 billion — with a b — that would need to be borrowed or bonded, with those costs indefinitely added to consumer electric bills. With escalating interest rates, plus inevitable litigation costs for any planned takeover, concerns about these increased rates are warranted. Governor Mills has repeatedly stated her opposition to the proposal.

The irony of this PTP effort cannot be overlooked against the electricity deregulation process initiated by former Governor Angus King two decades ago. King stridently advocated that CMP, and (then) Bangor Hydro, be required to sell off their power-generating capacities in order create competition among power-generating companies, which would result in lower electricity costs. Hydro dams and other assets had to be sold and Maine Yankee, our nuclear plant generating power at 2 cents per KWh, was closed. With no potential earnings from generating power, the utilities were reduced to delivery only with no other opportunity to earn a profit.

The ensuing decades are illustrative — our electric bills did not go down (Mainers have the 10th highest electric rates in the nation). Left with only electricity delivery, CMP and (now) Versant have had a succession of owners economizing operations in an attempt to gain a return on their investment.

Maine, and most of the nation’s economy, was founded around the abundant access to water. Every large town or city in the country needed access to ports on the coast, or along the nation’s rivers, not only for transportation of goods and services, but also for the energy provided from dams. As economies emerged during the industrial age, hydropower from dams created the fundamental electrical resource for life and economic expansion. With no expiration date, no need to add expensive batteries, tall wind blades or imported solar panels, hydropower was a readily available, on-demand energy providing consistent electricity for ratepayers and businesses. Large-scale hydro-dam projects allowed the creation of many job-based communities in Maine, like the mills in Sanford, Biddeford, Lewiston, Waterville, Millinocket and Bucksport, and also provided vast recreational opportunities from the lakes and ponds created.

The recent effort to block the inclusion of Hydro-Quebec’s electricity from the New England grid with the Clean Energy Corridor through Maine now proves to be very short-sighted. With much of the world demanding more energy of all types to meet growing energy demands, renewables, like windmills and solar grids, relying on man-made materials, are unable to meet rapidly increasing base-load energy demands — here in this country and in many regions of the planet. Maine electricity reform leaders should be leading efforts to revise and revisit the NECEC project to benefit ratepayers and to help protect our energy supply from further price shocks, as consumers experienced this past fall. The demand for energy is not going away. Solar and wind cannot provide 100 percent of our electricity needs 100 percent of the time. Uninterrupted renewable energy simply is not available 24/7.

With no capacity to generate energy, PTP will have no advantage over CMP or Versant. PTP will be unable to save its way to lower operating costs with billions of new debt. With no capacity to generate energy, PTP will be unable to increase market share or increase income margin. PTP effectively will produce nothing except more debt and higher electricity rates. Pine Tree Power is the wrong decision for Maine.

Tim Plouff of Otis is retired from a 30-year career in the energy sector. He writes The Ellsworth American’s weekly auto review column. Alan Baker of Orrington is a former state legislator. He was publisher of The Ellsworth American from 1989 to 2018.

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