Wil Thieme from the Maine Public Power campaign looks at Gov. Janet Mills’s legislative entry into the fight to make our electrical grid a public good.
Gov. Janet Mills knows CMP is deeply unpopular and can see what that might mean when we take a democratic, consumer-owned utility to Maine voters. So is her new bill a move to blunt interest in replacing CMP?
The Portland Press Herald reported this week that the governor is introducing legislation to hold CMP and Versant accountable—a move the paper describes as potentially having the effect of “blunting interest in an ongoing campaign to replace Maine’s two investor-owned utilities with a consumer-owned power authority.”
Mills’ proposal would impose fines up to $1 million or 10% of revenue if our notoriously unreliable utilities fail to meet standards for two consecutive quarters. The proposal also puts forward the possibility of a buyout or transfer of ownership if the utilities cannot improve.
Mills clearly knows she has to address the widespread frustration with CMP, which is raising rates by more than 80% while its parent company is being sued for racketeering and inflating rates. But Mill’s plan is not the answer; it’s just more neoliberal business as usual.
The proposed penalties don’t go far enough. The fine on CMP for its billing fiasco two years ago was $10 million—considerably higher than what’s being proposed—and that clearly wasn’t enough to set the company straight; they’ve actually been lobbying the state to remove the penalties! Also, any transfer of ownership would be overseen by a panel appointed by the governor—the same governor who backed CMP’s massively rebuked corridor and vetoed a bill that would have let voters weigh in on creating a statewide consumer-owned utility last year. (A reminder that Paul LePage, who could also appoint these panelists, was even more pro-corridor.)
Most concerning, the governor’s plan doesn’t even begin to address our existential imperative to decarbonize our energy use. As far as this bill is concerned, utilities just need to prepare for “the effect of climate change on the utility’s assets.” A profit-extracting business model can never deliver what we really need from our utilities. Across the US, there’s a reason all fully-carbon-neutral electric utilities are consumer-owned.
So, see the governor’s plan for what it is: a conciliatory admission that our for-profit energy system is broken that has been paired with some lackluster reforms to demobilize Mainers.
We can do better. We have the momentum. We need public power and this is no substitute. Join Maine Public Power‘s campaign as we build teams working towards energy democracy in new ways (many that you can do from home!) and get ready to get out there and talk to people about it as we re-energize our signature gathering and canvassing efforts in March. If you haven’t yet signed up as a volunteer, please fill out our volunteer form and we’ll try to find a project for you to help with.