Shining a light on consumer ownership of our electrical grid



By Rep. Nicole Grohoski

Most of us don’t think much about how we get our electricity until something goes wrong. Unfortunately, here in Maine, that happens all too often. With investor-owned CMP and Versant, Maine has the least reliable utilities nationwide, with the lowest customer service ratings. 

Maine also has the 10th highest residential electricity rates nationwide. Maine’s for-profit utilities deliver electricity for 58 percent more on average than the consumer-owned utilities in Maine and rates are only going up. Case in point: Versant just proposed a 25 percent rate increase.

Now, more than ever, we need electric utilities that will perform well, day in and day out, and not break the bank for Maine’s people, businesses and industries. We need a utility that can reliably and affordably deliver locally produced clean energy as we electrify our economy in the face of a changing climate.

Maine’s profit-driven utilities are failing us. Nationally, consumer-driven utilities are twice as reliable as profit-driven utilities. It’s time for a change. That is why I am proud to co-sponsor LD 1708, “An Act to Create the Pine Tree Power Company, a Nonprofit Utility, to Deliver Lower Rates, Reliability and Local Control for Maine Energy Independence.”

This bill is the result of three years of research and refinement by the Legislature. Sponsor Rep. Berry (D-Bowdoinham) and I are joined by Sens. Bennett (R-Oxford County), Jackson (D-Aroostook County), Brenner (D-Cumberland County), and Woodsome (R-York County) and Reps. Carlow (R-Buxton), Poirier (R-Skowhegan) and Newell (Passamaquoddy Tribe) in submitting this bill for consideration. We stand together because we know that Maine people want and deserve more affordable, reliable and cleaner electricity.

While our profit-driven utilities are sending money abroad instead of investing in sorely needed upgrades, Maine also has nine not-for-profit, consumer-owned utilities that provide excellent service to 97 towns at far lower costs. In fact, Maine residents would save $155 million/year on our electric bills if CMP and Versant charged the same average rate as our consumer-owned utilities.

Maine’s consumer-owned utilities aren’t managed by magicians. It’s just that their job is to serve customers, not to earn income for shareholders. Consumer-owned non-profit utilities also qualify for lower interest rates so they can invest in improvements to our electricity systems at 2-3 percent interest vs. the 8-13 percent we pay now. And consumer-owned utilities are managed locally and transparently, by our friends and neighbors, who have our best interests in mind. 

We know we’ll need to expand our grid over the next few decades to move to an electrified economy. Making the switch to consumer ownership — instead of private, non-competitive monopoly or government ownership — will save Mainers $9 billion over the next 30 years, according to economist Richard Silkman, in his review of a report presented to the Legislature by London Economics International, LLC. Silkman, who served on the cabinet of Governor John McKernan as the head of the Maine State Planning Office, is joined by other prominent Maine economists in pointing out that we simply cannot afford to pay high interest rates to build critical infrastructure. It’s basic math. 

With the Pine Tree Power Company, Mainers will save money and see improved service — frankly, things can’t get worse than they are now!

Maine people deserve the right to decide our energy future. The state has the legal authority to revoke the monopoly privilege of CMP and Versant and move forward for the good of Maine people. 

I believe it is time to take charge of our critical electrical infrastructure and break free from distant company shareholders who prioritize profits over performance. I encourage you to learn more at ourpowermaine.org. 

Rep. Nicole Grohoski is serving her second term in the Maine House, representing the people of Ellsworth and Trenton. A member of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, she has been a vocal advocate for affordable, reliable and clean electricity.

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