A ballot initiative seeking to replace Maine’s electric utilities with a consumer-owned nonprofit will not go to a vote in 2022, campaign officials announced Tuesday.
“Our Power” campaign manager Stephanie Clifford said they’ve collected 73% of the petition signatures needed to get on this year’s ballot. But the pandemic has slowed canvassing efforts, and with a Jan. 31 petition deadline looming, Clifford said the campaign has decided to continue taking signatures later into this year in hopes of getting on the 2023 ballot.
The signatures they began collecting just after Election Day in 2021 are valid for a total of 12 months. It gives the campaign until late this fall to put their proposal to a vote next year by getting at least 63,067 signers, based on turnout in the previous gubernatorial election.
State Rep. Seth Berry, a Democrat from Bowdoinham, sponsored the original consumer-owned utility plan that passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills in 2021. In a statement, he called the signature-gathering efforts so far “an unprecedented accomplishment.”
“This volunteer effort has shown us that regardless of ideology or creed, Mainers are looking for a new path for our state's energy future. Since all signatures collected so far are valid for a full year, we'll plan to finish the job come warmer weather this spring and summer.”
If these efforts succeed, it would put the referendum on a much less crowded ballot. It would have shared space this year with races for governor and U.S. House of Representatives, as well as other high-profile referenda.
In 2023, it could have more of the spotlight to itself — as did an initiative that passed at the polls in 2021 to at least temporarily block Central Maine Power’s controversial transmission corridor.
The “Our Power” plan would direct the state Public Utilities Commission to find CMP and Versant Power unfit to serve, and would have these investor-owned utilities sell their assets to a new nonprofit, with a publicly elected board of overseers, called Pine Tree Power.
CMP’s parent company Avangrid is funding a campaign against this plan, called Maine Affordable Energy. Executive director Willy Ritch said they’ve gathered 15% of the needed signatures for their own referendum, which they also hope to get on the 2023 ballot, that would require voter approval for entities like the new consumer-owned utility to take on major debt.
“The longer the debate over government-controlled power takes, the more people learn about it,” Ritch said in a statement. “And the more people learn about it, the less they like it.”