By Gary Friedmann
The Islander’s recent editorial on runaway electric bills (Feb. 7) missed the mark on several critical aspects of Maine’s utilities – and the many benefits of a consumer-owned utility (COU).
There are two reasons for soaring electric bills: skyrocketing natural gas prices and Versant’s double-digit rate increase for transmission and distribution. A COU will keep rates down by purchasing Versant’s assets with low-interest bonds, which are much less expensive than paying Versant’s premium for doing business here. Maine’s Public Utilities Commission guarantees Versant an annual 10 percent return on investments. A COU that encourages the interconnection of renewable energy into our grid will stabilize supply rates with solar and wind energy that are now cheaper than natural gas.
Our Power’s grassroots initiative will bring the opportunity to democratize our grid by putting a COU on the November 2023 ballot. We already have almost 50,000 signatures and need another 15,000 to qualify. And the Governor and her corporate sponsors are running scared.
They should be. They know that Maine citizens are fed up with the abuse and lies promulgated by CMP and are tired of sending our hard-earned dollars to the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar and Norway that hold major ownership shares of CMP. Versant is a wholly owned subsidiary of the city of Calgary’s municipal electric power company, Enmax. They have only one primary objective: to return profits to Alberta. Every time our rates go up in eastern Maine, we’re paying for skating rinks and sidewalks in Canada.
These foreign owners do not care about Maine ratepayers, the quality of our electric service or our climate goals. They only have an insatiable demand for increasing profits.
The Governor’s bill introduced in the Legislature earlier this month, LD 1959, has one primary purpose: to muddle the public’s demand for real change. By proposing hollow reforms controlled by the Governor’s appointees at the PUC and the foreign-owned utilities themselves, the Governor has promulgated a distracting and superficial reform bill that, in effect, makes our situation worse.
The process proposed in her bill is entirely in the hands of one person, the Governor. While much has been said about the Governor’s proposal as a method to hold utilities accountable, in fact, it may do nothing.
It gives enormous power to the PUC without adding to its staff or expertise. It strips the Legislature of all powers over the process and establishes lengthy, possibly endless, procedures.
It would do nothing about rates and ignores existing performance failures and ratings, restarting the process with a blank slate.
Perhaps most important, the Governor’s bill does nothing to advance her own climate goals, sidestepping the imperative for urgent decarbonization of Maine’s economy through rapid strengthening of the electric grid and accelerated integration of renewables throughout our state.
COUs have proven to be extremely effective at keeping rates low and advancing renewable energy supplies throughout the U.S., serving millions of customers. Of the six utilities nationwide that have already reached 100 percent clean energy, all are COUs.
We should be angry about our soaring electric bills and the companies that are behind them. It’s time to take our power into our own hands.
Gary Friedmann is a founding board member of Our Power and has served on the Bar Harbor Town Council for 10 years.