To the Editor:
I may be one of the only Mainers with some positive memories of the Ice Storm of ’98. My parents and I ate by candlelight, played games and propped up ice-laden tree branches around our house. I was in high school and our midterms were canceled! Oh, and we had a generator that was critical when the power outage wore on to a full seven days. Some of our neighbors in North Ellsworth were not so fortunate. Even if you didn’t live through that infamous storm, you probably have experienced or know the consequences of an extended power outage to our food safety, plumbing, hygiene and personal health, especially for our older residents.
There have been many outages since ’98, each of which reminds us how important our connection to affordable and reliable electricity is. But that begs the question — is our service as good as it could be? Maine ranks 40th in the country for affordability and 49th for reliability of our grid, so perhaps not. There is another option: the proposed Maine Power Delivery Authority. This would be a consumer-owned utility (COU) servicing electricity customers in the current Emera Maine and CMP territories. As my constituents and fellow ratepayers, I want you to know why I’m planning to support this legislation in Augusta.
As a member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee of the Legislature, I have immersed myself in the nitty-gritty details of how we receive and pay for electricity in Maine. News to me: 1) there are already nine not-for-profit COUs in Maine and 2) our neighbors in the more than half of Washington County served by the Eastern Maine Electric Co-op pay 8.46 cents/kWh while we pay 10.90 cents/kWh for the transmission and delivery of electricity (read: powerlines).
Not only are there folks in Maine who have lower rates and better reliability (fewer and shorter outages) than we do, but there are people all over this country who have it better. More than a quarter of Americans are served by one of America’s 2,908 COUs. I encourage you to look at maps available from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the American Public Power Association to see how widespread COUs are and their prevalence in our more conservative states.
The people of Nebraska have run their own electric utilities since the 1940s and in 2018, they ranked first in the country for reliability while we ranked 49th, with an annual average outage of less than an hour per customer as compared to our nearly 4.5 hours. Maybe they don’t have quite as many trees to knock down their lines, but they do have tornadoes. And their costs were ranked 17th while ours were 40th, not bad for a state that is 2.5 times larger than we are and has more people.
So what’s the magic formula? Rather than being served by a for-profit investor-owned utility (IOU) that must guarantee its investors a higher return (9-13 percent) and is predicated on the continued construction of more infrastructure (whether we need it or not), we could purchase our infrastructure with lower-interest revenue bonds (2-5 percent), which are paid back by the consumers. This is exactly how the Maine Turnpike Authority is financed. Not with taxpayer dollars. And speaking of taxes, the Maine Power Delivery Authority would continue to pay property taxes to municipalities, as it does now.
And who would run this Authority? It would be overseen by a nine-person board, representing residential, commercial and industrial consumers across the state. All the people who currently work for Emera and CMP would keep their jobs and we could provide better working conditions for them. Dick Rogers, business manager of IBEW 1837, the local union representing CMP and Emera workers, said “IBEW 1837 believes that the current structure and workforce model, driven in large part due to the current utility ownership at CMP and Emera, has had a significant negative impact on all employees, and more importantly, the ratepayers in Maine.” I was very concerned to hear that the quality of both the equipment installed and the workmanship of temporary lineworkers who our utilities increasingly rely on puts our own lineworkers and customers at serious risk.
You sent me to Augusta to listen, to learn and to work hard with others to make life a bit easier for Maine people and businesses. I’ve been doing just that and have concluded that the proposed Maine Power Delivery Authority must be seriously considered to reduce our electricity costs while increasing our reliability. It is time that we take more control of our electricity distribution system here in Maine.
Rep. Nicole Grohoski