Maine Consumer-Owned Utility Referendum Certified for Ballot

The state certified 69,735 valid signatures, surpassing the threshold by more than 6,000, state officials said

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The secretary of state’s office has certified an adequate number of voter signatures for a referendum on a proposal to replace Maine’s privately owned electric utilities with a consumer-owned Pine Tree Power Company.

The state certified 69,735 valid signatures, surpassing the threshold by more than 6,000, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said Wednesday. That means that the proposal will go to the Maine Legislature for considering. If it isn’t passed by lawmakers, then it would go to state voters in November.

Andrew Blunt, executive director of Our Power, said it’s time to make a change to save money for ratepayers.

“With rates through the roof and a hard winter ahead, Mainers are more ready than ever for a local power company that lowers our bills instead of making wealthy corporations richer,” he said in a statement.

Critics contend buying out Central Maine Power and Versant Power, the state’s two largest electric utilities, would be costly and negate any savings.

The Maine Legislature approved the proposal to oust Central Maine Power and Versant Power last year. But Democratic Gov. Janet Mills vetoed the bill, saying the proposal was “deeply flawed.”

The signature certification follows a major development in a charged debate over electricity in Maine.

On Tuesday, the state’s supreme court ruled that a lease for approximately 30 acres of state land is legal, handing a victory to developers of the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), the controversial $1 billion utility corridor that would bring Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts.

Scott Mahoney, an attorney representing the NECEC’s parent company, AVANGRID, said Tuesday that the ruling “is yet another step in the right direction for Maine’s renewable energy future. The serious need for the NECEC project to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, combat climate change, and lower energy prices remains unchanged.”

At the same time, project opponents condemned the court’s decision.

“We are extremely disappointed with the decision that was made today.  In our opinion, the Maine Constitution clearly places a safeguard protecting our public lands from CMP’s development of a transmission line that provides little to no benefit to Maine consumers.  That safeguard is a two-thirds vote of the duly elected members of the Maine Legislature,” said Tom Saviello, one of the leaders of a referendum effort in 2021 against the project.

When that ballot question was presented to Maine voters last November, a decisive number of them, approximately 60%, voted that the corridor should not move forward.

However, courts are also examining whether or not that referendum question was constitutional.

When added to Wednesday’s news, the number of high-voltage legal and political questions yet to be answered mount, including what happens if the corridor project moves forward but Maine voters decide to form a consumer-owned utility.

Right now, according to Nicole Grohoski, a Maine state senator and a board member for a group supporting the consumer-owned utility called Our Power, her group “doesn’t have an official position” on the NECEC.

“We would decide if that’s something that we wanted to acquire or not if it was ultimately built,” she added.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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