Too late to the debate

Dear Editor:

I confess to a considerable amount of befuddlement concerning the opposition of Mr. Plouff and Mr. Baker to a public entity taking over and managing Maine’s electric utilities [“Pine Tree Power wrong for Maine,” June 16]. They are two years too late to this debate. Versant is already a municipal-owned utility. Let me say that again — Versant is a municipal utility. Sure, Versant has a private sounding name, and its parent company, ENMAX, is a name that disguises the fact that its single shareholder is the city of Calgary. Yep, Versant is owned in full — 100 percent — by the citizens of Calgary, Canada.

A little over two years ago, the Calgary City Council thought it would be a good idea to buy and take over Emera Maine. To the best of my recollection, Mr. Plouff and Mr. Baker did not object then to a government takeover of a Maine electric utility — but to be fair, neither did the vast majority of customers in the former Bangor Hydro and Maine Public Service territories. The takeover went smoothly, as these things generally go, and now the citizens of Calgary receive dividends from the rates paid by Mainers that are used to help finance city operations and lower municipal taxes.

From all accounts, the city of Calgary appears to be satisfied with its ownership of the local utility and with the takeover. Over the past 23 years, ENMAX has paid roughly $1.14 billion in dividends to the city of Calgary, above and beyond the $13 million in taxes ENMAX pays each year to the city. To quote: “Having achieved solid financial performance in 2020 through an enhanced focus of ENMAX’s core Alberta electricity business and successful integration of its Versant Power acquisition, [ENMAX] declared a dividend of $58 million to its Shareholder, The City of Calgary, marking a 7 percent increase relative to 2019 and to be paid in 2021.”

So, let’s not fool ourselves — the issue is not whether Bangor, Ellsworth and most of northern Maine will be served by a government-owned electric utility. That horse has already left the barn. Perhaps Mr. Plouff and Mr. Baker and other opponents to Pine Tree Power believe that the Calgary City Council is more capable of owning a Maine electric utility and, despite being some 2,000 miles away and not elected by Maine voters, would be more responsive to Maine concerns than the state of Maine. Nah, I doubt that. Mainers are not that foolish. The only real issue is whether the electric rates paid by Mainers will provide dividends to the city of Calgary to support government services and lower taxes in Calgary or will be used by Pine Tree Power to provide better service at lower rates.

Richard Silkman