Gov. Janet Mills is urging Mainers to vote against Question 3 on the November ballot, saying a takeover of the state’s two public electric companies would leave “our utilities in a dangerous state of limbo.”
Mills on Wednesday raised three major objections: the cost, the governing board and the potential for a protracted legal fight.
“Because Question 3 is a hostile take-over of our utilities with eminent domain, we are guaranteed to go to court and to be tied up in litigation for years, if not decades,” she said in a radio address. “That leaves our utilities in a dangerous state of limbo when we can least afford it.”
Question 3 on the Nov. 7 ballot is a citizen initiative put forward following Mills’ rejection of a similar bill in the Legislature in 2021.
Last year, a group called Our Power gathered enough signatures to call for a public vote to create Pine Tree Power, a new entity that would replace Central Maine Power and Versant Power with a nonprofit.
Pine Tree Power would be controlled by a 13-member board, seven of whom would be elected and six of whom would be designated as experts.
The company would be financed by issuing debt against future revenues and would not be permitted to use state tax money or state bonds. The cost of acquiring CMP and Versant would be negotiated or determined by a third party, such as a judge.
Supporters of the effort say the takeover will save electric customers money over 30 years. They also promise to reduce outages and “bring back local control from the foreign corporations and governments that have bought out CMP and Versant,” according to their website.
In a statement, Pine Tree Power Campaign Manager Al Cleveland says, "Mainers know CMP and Versant have the worst customer service and the most frequent outages in the country. We aren't looking to talk to politicians like Governor Mills to tell us how to vote this fall. Mainers are looking at our electric bills, neighbors, and the existing consumer-owner utilities across the state that save people money. A Yes vote on Question 3 is our path towards voting out CMP and Versant, multinational corporations controlled by foriegn governments. Pine Tree Power will save Mainers money, reduce outages, and bring back local control of our grid."
In her statement, the governor said the cost — estimated at $13.5 billion — is more than the two-year state budget.
“The cost alone leaves me very concerned that we are proposing to mortgage the future of our children who are going to have to foot this bill years down the road,” Mills said.
When it comes to the governing board, Mills said it would introduce politics into the state’s electric utilities.
Question 3 is one of eight ballot measures that will be decided in November. Mills said she’s not taking public positions on all of them, but that she feels concerned enough about Question 3 to speak out publicly.
She said she’s already signed legislation into law to hold the utilities to account for minimum standards of service.
“That’s what we should be doing — holding them accountable and improving their service, not launching a hostile take-over that will cost billions of dollars to Maine ratepayers, and inject partisanship into the delivery of our power, and delay the progress we’ve been making,” she said.