Consumer advocates, opponents say they have enough signatures for 2023 ballot questions | So Good News
Dueling campaigns against the introduction of consumer-generated electricity in Maine each announced Monday that they will collect enough signatures to put their competing visions before voters in November 2023.
Our Power, which is the leader of the group that leads the electricity distribution company, held a press conference in Augusta before submitting more than 80,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. The office must verify at least 63,067 signatures for a question to appear on the ballot.
Citizens’ intentions can create Pine Tree Power Co., described as a private, non-profit corporation operated by a 13-member board.
The goal of the program is to provide reliable, cost-effective solutions transmission and distribution of electrical services and helps meet Maine’s climate, energy and connectivity goals. It would not generate power or sell electricity.
Pine Tree Power will replace two Maine utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant Power, which have been criticized for high prices, poor performance and customer dissatisfaction.
Our Power gave its signature on Halloween, and used the day to make a statement.
“Until we get our power back, CMP and Versant will play every trick in the book, and take all the candy out of the bowl,” said Andrew Blunt, CEO of Our Power. “They will spend millions and millions more on misleading advertising. They will leave the (Public Utilities Commission) with 11.5% and 17.5% price increases, like last year, and they still want 30% more, like they did this year. “
Blunt was referring to inflation in 2021 and ongoing PUC litigation involving both CMP and Versant over distribution requests, which are due in 2023. CMP’s distribution is down 5.5% this year.
These prices are different from those offered for non-renewable electricity, which are decided by the PUC following requests from private generators – not CMP or Versant. The prices have also seen a steep jump and are set to rise. Taken together, the rising cost of electricity is a burden on Mainers and should be a factor in how voters think about these questions.
Efforts to force the sale of CMP and Versant assets are strongly opposed by the trade union Maine Affordable Energy. He’s campaigned for No Blank Checks, which aims to force a vote in every state on the more than $1 billion in federal debt.
The group announced Monday that it has collected 92,164 signatures to put the issue on the upcoming November ballot.
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Monday’s conflicting announcements represent differing views on what could happen.
The ongoing debate is how long the acquisition will take, the combined value of CMP and Versant’s assets and whether — or if — customers will begin to see potential savings.
Maine Affordable Energy compares the plan to legal challenges that are expected to take 10 years and cost electricity customers $13.5 billion, to pay the debt related to the acquisition of two private companies.
“When the Legislature considered the proposal to operate Maine’s private electric utilities three years ago, no one knew what the consequences would be for Maine’s electric customers,” Willy Ritch, CEO of No Blank Checks, said in a statement. “We now know the cost will be in the billions of dollars, yet the organizers of Pine Tree Power would prefer that Mainers not know the true cost of the takeover.”
Our Power contradicts this assessment. The group says the acquisition could take three to four years and cost less, and estimates the total value of CMP and Versant’s assets to be around $3.3 billion.
Our Power also says that customers will begin to save money immediately after the sale, even including the initial purchase price, because Pine Tree Power will be able to borrow operating and maintenance costs at about one-third of the cost of CMP and Versant.
Another point of contention is that Pine Tree Power would be “state controlled”.
The project will be managed by a panel of 13 voting members; seven will be elected to represent the five state Senate districts. Six people will be appointed experts and seven elected members. The actual grid work is managed by a third party contractor hired by the agency.
But critics say they refer to the Pine Tree Authority as a “controlled government” because it would be a quasi-municipal agency, like the Maine Turnpike Authority. Pine Tree Power’s elected board is eligible for taxpayer funding under the Maine Clean Election Act.
The agency cannot serve the 97 smaller counties in Maine that already have other utility or electric utilities, such as Kennebunk Light & Power and Madison Electric Works.
Although any vote could be more than a year away, Maine Affordable Energy has already spent $10.4 million trying to sway public opinion. The money comes from CMP’s parent company, Avangrid Inc., in Connecticut, Maine Campaign Finance reports. About $3.7 million was spent on social media and online marketing and $3.6 million on professional services.
Our Power has taken in $526,000 in donations, records show, mostly from individuals.
It is unclear what will happen if both referendums pass next November. Ritch said his group’s legal research shows that voters will be asked at the next election whether or not they approve of the debt caused by the confiscation of weapons. The spokesperson for the office of the Secretary of State, Emily Cook, said, however, that such a decision involves interpreting the text of the referendum questions, and the office is not ready to comment at this time.
On Halloween, these people get paid to raise you
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