LD 1708, An Act To Create the Pine Tree Power Company, a Nonprofit Utility, To Deliver Lower Rates, Reliability and Local Control for Maine Energy Independence, sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) passed through the Legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee during the first week of June. Now it heads to the full legislature for a vote that could place the question of public power on the ballot as early as November for Maine voters. Tennessee Pierce, a member of Maine DSA and an activist with the Maine Public Power Coalition, explains private power’s impact on Mainers and explains how you can get involved. See the end of this article to sign up to help.
I thought my record player was broken. It was my grandma’s and I’d hauled it up here when I drove the 1800 miles to Maine. I was sure the heat in Missouri or maybe the bumpy miles and miles of road construction around Indianapolis were the culprit. Whatever had happened, no amount of fiddling was making the power button work. There was no pop, no crackle, no sound of an old machine coming to life. Nothing.
That’s when I noticed the sound. Well, the lack of it. I’m not new to power outages. I was born and raised in southern Oklahoma, where the wind comes rushing down the plains, tornado alley, all that. I’m familiar enough with eirie quiet of fading white noise in the middle of tornado season, but I am new to frequent outages that last for days at a time.
The whole house was quiet. One of my roommates had fled her home office to look for functioning wireless and an outlet to charge her laptop. My other roommate, who was in the middle of cooking a brisket for her friend’s birthday, was gone. So was the brisket. This might have clued me in that you Mainers are veterans of being without power, but it didn’t.
The power would have to go off again, spoiling everything that needed refrigeration at the Brunswick Hannaford. Causing thousands of dollars in damage and a whole lot of wasted food. The power would have to go out again and cause the traffic lights to malfunction at dangerous intersections. Then, a month later, the power went out again. But even that wasn’t enough to prepare me for listening to the testimonies of lifelong Mainers like Sophie Gaulkin.
On May 20, 2021 the Energy, Utility, and Technology (EUT) Committee sat in Zoom session for eleven hours. They heard testimonies from over seventy people (one-third of those from Maine DSA) who let the Legislature know we can’t trust two investor-owned, for-profit businesses with a monopoly over an essential service like electricity. Companies that have no incentive to work for us or the climate.
After waiting for nine hours for her turn to speak, Sophie recalled a power outage when she was a kid that stopped the sump pump, causing her basement to flood, forcing her single mother of three to come up with the money for new flooring. “The power went out again and to keep the basement from flooding a second time my mom stayed up bailing water with a bucket for eight hours straight through the night. I remember her hands were cut up from hauling the bucket back and forth from the basement to outside. I remember seeing my mom cry. I remember her telling us that, no, there was nobody to call for help. Who can you call in the middle of the night to help bail out your house when the power is out, the phones don’t work, your neighbors are dealing with their own problems caused by the outage? That happened when I was seven years old. It’s been eighteen years since then.”
In response to public power opponents saying there was no guarantee this would work, Sophie replied, “Well, I’d like to tell them that every day Mainers have been living with no guarantee of reliable power especially when we need it most.”
Since the public hearing on May 20 a lot has happened, so let’s catch up. We (Maine DSA and Our Power Coalition members) have focused our sights on Governor Janet Mills and members of the EUT committee. As part of our campaign, we started a letter committee, organized phone zaps, and sent over 100 emails to Sen. Mark Lawrence and Sen. Eloise Vitelli.
On June 1 the EUT held a work session for LD 1708. And, finally, after Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) working on the bill for three years, the EUT voted it out of committee that same day on a vote of 9 to 2 (8 Democrats and 1 Republican voting Ought to Pass as Amended versus 2 Republicans voting Ought not to Pass—2 other Republicans were absent). As Sen. Lawrence put it, in the end, one “can’t come up with an argument of why we should not let the voters decide this issue, if that is what they want to do..” It’s a compelling argument. After all, 75 percent of Maine voters favor a local, consumer-owned utility over CMP and Versant, according to recent polling. Ultimately, both Sen. Lawrence and Sen. Vitelli voted Ought to Pass as Amended.
This means we are on to the full legislature!
This is where you come in, comrade. Grab a popsicle and pull up a chair because we have less than a month until the end of the first Legislative session. Things are starting to move quickly. It will take at least a week before the House can get to LD 1708 because there are still a couple of things that the EUT has to do before they can pass the bill on (language review and fiscal note). Right now, whether it’s in person or email or over the phone or fax or all of them, we need each of you (our members, our community, our friends) to reach out to your legislators and urge them to leave it up to Maine voters to decide where our power comes from and where our money goes.
We need to reach the public. That’s what we do at the DSA. We organize. We mobilize. We’re also running a letter-to-the-editor action to spread the truth through local publications to counter CMP and Versant’s lies.
So, if you are reading this, contact your Representative and Senator and urge them to support LD 1708 and let the Maine people decide. If you want to jump in, you can write a Letter to the Editor for your local newspaper about the benefits of a consumer-owned utility or the cons of having CMP or Versant.
And stay tuned. Either LD 1708 will pass and give Mainers a vote on public power this November… or Mainers will put it on the ballot themselves in November 2022.