Breaking Down the Ballot: Hear both sides of Question 3

Published: Oct. 31, 2023 at 5:45 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Question 3 on Maine’s November ballot is the most high-profile referendum.

It asks, “Do you want to create a new power company governed by an elected board to acquire and operate existing for-profit electricity transmission and distribution facilities in Maine?”

We heard from both sides and a neutral party to better understand what may lie ahead.

“There’s a lot of strong advocacies both for and against Question 3, and that’s as it should be,” said William Harwood, Maine’s public advocate. “That’s a healthy part of our democratic process.”

Question 3 asks Mainers if they want to replace Maine’s two biggest utilities, CMP and Versant, with Pine Tree Power.

In 2023, TV5 reported on multiple increases in various electric rates as well as frequent power outages.

“Pine Tree Power, the power company that we would get by voting yes on Question 3, would deliver better reliability for our power, bring back local control to our grid, and bring savings on our power bills that Mainers desperately need,” said Al Cleveland, Campaign Manager for Yes on Pine Tree Power Campaign.

However, opponents say the plan isn’t clear on the exact cost or structure.

BJ McCollister is campaign manager for Maine Energy Progress which opposes Question 3.

“There’s questions on if it’s constitutional, there’s questions on how this new electric company would run because it doesn’t include an operations plan,” said McCollister.

Pine Tree Power says it has an independent analysis which shows Mainers will save $9.1 billion over a 30-year-span.

Opponents say it will bring more debt for Mainers.

“There’s been an independent analysis that’s been done by the London Economic Institute through the work of the legislature that found that this could cost anywhere from 9 to 13.5 billion dollars, and the longer period of time that acquisition takes, which Maine Public Advocate says it could take 5 to 10 years in litigation, the more expensive this becomes,” said McCollister.

Cleveland says it won’t take that long.

“If voters vote yes on Question 3, we’ll have the Pine Tree Power company operating in three to four years,” said Cleveland. “We’ll elect a board of directors who will be responsible and accountable to us Maine people and not foreign shareholders, and we will acquire the utilities built on the tried-and-true method of consumer owned utilities that are already saving Maine people money across the state.”

According to Cleveland, Maine already has 10 consumer-owned utilities that represent 98 municipalities with delivery rates that are 52% less than CMP and Versant.

McCollister says well-known political figures in both major parties are against this plan.

“What we find is that people on both sides of the aisle, whether that be Gov. Janet Mills or former Gov. Paul LePage, are encouraging voters to vote no because this is a risky proposal with no plan to lower electric rates or improve reliability,” said McCollister.

“Question 3 presents a rosy solution, but in reality, I just don’t see how it’ll improve our utilities or the services they provide, in fact I fear it just might make things worse,” said Gov. Janet Mills.

“What we’ve seen in other states when measures like this have moved forward, like in Long Island, peoples’ rates increase by 50%, and the private grid operator that was hired to run the grid just as Pine Tree Power proposes was a foreign entity, so there’s nothing in the Pine Tree Power initiative that ensures this would be run by the company,” said McCollister.

TV5 spoke with Maine Public Advocate William Harwood who has taken a neutral stance as his office couldn’t determine if the proposal is a good one or bad one for Mainers.

“We’ve got this short-term acquisition premium problem which may have upward pressure on rates, but you have a long term cost of capital benefit from Question 3 which in the long term will have significant downward effect on rates, and that’s where the experts are trying to mix and match those two and make those assumptions,” said Harwood.

So, if you vote yes, Pine Tree Power will begin its process of launching.

If you vote no, other alternatives such as LD 1959, an accountability bill that Mills signed in 2022 could take effect to hold utilities accountable for Maine ratepayers.

For more information on Pine Tree Power, you can head to their website.

If you want more information on No for Pine Tree Power, you can head to this website.

If you’re in need of guidance from the Maine office of public advocate, you can head to their website or call them at 207-624-3687.