Government-run power? No thanks

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cushing island

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows confirmed this week that the effort to establish a “consumer-owned” utility in Maine, led by Our Power and former Rep. Seth Berry, submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The proposal requires seizing by eminent domain the assets of Maine’s largest utilities – Central Maine Power and Versant – and creating a state-run electrical company. While the Legislature can pass the measure first or create its own competing proposal, I suspect this initiative, like most of those before it, will be kicked to voters to decide its ultimate fate.

The idea that this so-called “consumer-owned” utility would truly be consumer-owned is hilarious when you consider the following. Berry, a connected former Democrat pol, is helping to spearhead the effort and is a longtime member of Maine’s Energy, Utility, and Technology Committee. Surely not he nor any friends in his back pocket will end up with exorbitant power and influence on this new board, right? He’s only acting out of concern for the average Mainer, not his own self interest, right?

Under the proposal, the board will be comprised of 13 members, seven of which are elected. The six remaining so-called “expert” members are selected by the seven elected members. One of the qualifications to be a selected member of the board is expertise in “economic, environmental and social justice.” What does that have to do with running a power company? Couldn’t tell you.

This proposal creates a slightly more open version of the Public Utilities Commission, considering some of its positions are elected, but it will be filled with as many insiders and as much cronyism. Maybe even more.

Perhaps most amusing is that this idea is backed by so-called advocates of democracy. Seizing the assets of private corporations doesn’t sound very democratic to me, but I suppose that is what “democracy” looks like… in Russia.

The idea of a government-run power company also leaves me scratching my head considering I can’t think of a single thing which I believe the government does well. The only thing it’s truly exceptional at is wasting other people’s money.

Are our students meeting minimum learning standards at school, and when they graduate, are they college or career ready? Are the roads safe to drive on or are they full of potholes? What is it like when you must interact with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles? How about the Department of Health and Human Services?

What about your mail delivery–on-time and consistent? What was it like trying to navigate the unemployment system during the pandemic, or even in normal times? How easy is it to build an addition on your home?

Examples abound of the ways our local, state, and national governments make our lives more difficult through bureaucracy, regulation, or outright incompetence. None of them really have a track record of success.

Do you really trust a new government board to control the power delivered to your home or business? Regardless of the opinions you hold about your current provider, do you really believe a government-run utility – with no profit motive – will restore your power more quickly when it goes out?

The Pine Tree Power Company is a solution in search of a problem–many problems far greater than the ones we face today. If Mainers want lower utility rates, they should urge lawmakers in Augusta to pursue policies that would reduce them – like leaving the regional greenhouse gas initiative, repealing the renewable portfolio standard, and diversifying generating sources in the forms of hydro and nuclear power.

Allow for a more competitive energy marketplace and watch what happens to your monthly rates.

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