Maine voters reject public power takeover of utilities

Bonds

Voters in Maine rejected a much-debated proposal to replace the state’s two largest power providers with a public utility company in Tuesday’s election.

Question 3 on the ballot, which asked voters to approve the state takeover of for-profit power providers Versant and Central Maine Power Company and the creation of a non-profit, publicly owned utility called Pine Tree Power, was defeated 70% to 30%, according to unofficial returns.

The results were a blow to campaigners who said the move would help address rising rates and other service issues and took up the effort after a similar piece of legislation failed to pass the state legislature in 2021.

Investor-owned Versant Power and Central Maine Power Company survived a public takeover attempt after voters rejected a ballot measure to replace them with a public utility.

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Al Cleveland, Pine Tree Power’s campaign manager, said in a statement after the vote that despite the loss, the referendum was “a message to utility shareholders everywhere: people are more important than your profits.”

Versant and Central Maine Power are hurting people, he said. “With worst in the nation customer service, astronomical rates, and the most frequent outages in the country, Maine voters made clear that we deserve better,” he said.

Had the measure succeeded, the state would have acquired Versant and CMS’s assets before shifting service operations for 800,000 Mainers over to Pine Tree Power. The new company would have been governed by an elected board of 13.

Proponents said the measure would have driven down rates and improved service and cost around $9 billion in the end.

Opponents, including Gov. Janet Mills, disagreed, citing a higher estimate of $13.5 billion for the state takeover, as well as uncertainties over how much, if at all, the change would help to improve service.

Before the referendum, she encouraged residents to vote no on Question 3.

“What we are really talking about here is adding a layer of bureaucracy and politics and partisanship over the existing structure of CMP and Versant and I just don’t see how this improves anything,” she said.

With the referendum behind it, Central Maine Power said in a statement provided to The Bond Buyer that it is ready to “turn the page.”

“As we look forward, we must continue to modernize our grid to support Maine’s climate change goals, connect new renewable resources, and electrify our communities,” the statement said. “Thank you to our 660,000 customers for putting their continued trust in Central Maine Power. We will have more to say in the coming days.”

Versant is committed “to helping Maine accomplish our ambitious energy goals and strives to be a trusted partner in those efforts,” the company said in a statement after the vote.

“We are eager to build consensus and momentum for meeting Maine’s energy and climate goals and delivering the best possible service and value for our customers,” the company said. “We hope Maine can move past the repeatedly failed idea of a government power takeover and instead build consensus and momentum for meeting Maine’s energy and climate goals.”

Voters Tuesday also approved Question 1, a measure promoted by opponents to the Pine Tree Power initiative, to require voter approval for certain state entities, municipal electric districts, electrification cooperatives, or consumer-owned transmission utilities to incur an outstanding debt that exceeds $1 billion, passed 65% to 35%.

Question 2, which prohibits election spending by foreign governments, including entities with partial foreign government ownership or control, passed 86% to 14%.

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