The Wrong Question: Why Pine Tree Power Isn’t the Solution for Maine’s Utilities

The upcoming November 7th election in Maine presents voters with a significant question: whether to create an entity called Pine Tree Power, which would be responsible for managing the state’s electricity supply. Proponents argue that electrifying the system is essential for combating global warming caused by fossil fuel burning. However, the issue lies in the proposal itself, with few clear explanations of how Pine Tree Power would actually work.

Pine Tree Power is described as a privately operated, nonprofit, consumer-owned utility, which sets it apart from the current service providers, Central Maine Power and Versant. However, the implementation of Pine Tree Power would require a massive overhaul of the existing utility structure, which may not necessarily lead to the desired improvements.

A major problem stems from the 2000 law that deregulated electric providers in Maine. This separation of generation and transmission functions led to the sale of both CMP and Versant to out-of-state interests, resulting in significant customer service failures and increased costs for consumers. Pine Tree Power seeks to address these issues, but its effectiveness remains uncertain.

The financial implications of Pine Tree Power are also a concern. Estimates suggest that the takeover could cost between $7 billion and $13 billion, a staggering amount that would need to be accounted for in consumer rates. Additionally, the proposed management structure raises questions about its feasibility. A 13-member board, consisting of seven elected members and six experts, may struggle to reach consensus and make effective decisions.

Rather than focusing on Pine Tree Power, Maine should consider the establishment of a public power authority that oversees generation. Other states, such as New York, Washington, and Oregon, have successfully implemented public power authorities, resulting in lower generating costs and effective renewable energy planning. A public power authority for Maine would guide the transition to renewable sources like solar, wind, and tidal power, as well as address the pressing issue of storage capabilities.

Ultimately, the decision on Question 3 is complex, and voters may not have a clear understanding of how Pine Tree Power would work. Instead of pursuing this abstract solution, Maine should prioritize the creation of a public power authority and engage in a thoughtful debate about the future of the state’s utilities.

Source: Douglas Rooks (source article)






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