We should replace profit-seeking utilities with a publicly managed nonprofit to meet climate goals.
By Matthew Cannon
Special to the Press Herald
Matthew Cannon is campaign and policy associate director for the Sierra Club Maine chapters.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change unequivocally shows we are not doing enough to address climate change. The good news: Maine has set ambitious climate goals, including a requirement to use 80 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. The bad news: Our current investor-owned utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant, are incapable of delivering on these requirements.
Our electric utilities have significantly delayed our transition to 100 percent renewable energy. They have nullified agreements with solar companies (which CMP is under investigation for), provided inadequate staffing in order to achieve higher profits, and fought the initial campaign for rooftop solar. Meanwhile, they seek excessive rate hikes of up to 25 percent without clearly demonstrating better performance or pursuit of climate goals, all with little public transparency. And, they continue to spend millions to ram through the CMP Corridor, which an overwhelming majority of Mainers just voted to stop.
Even though our utilities are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, they are profit-maximizing monopolies, shareholder-owned companies who are guaranteed a high rate of return on their investments by federal law. In the case of CMP and Versant, they’re owned by foreign banks and governments, and they operate to maximize investors’ profits — not the interests of Maine ratepayers.
Serving Mainers is not their top priority, by design. However, we the people bestowed this monopoly power, and most don’t know we can remove the privilege. A coalition of your neighbors and local organizations formed Our Power, and we need your help to bring power back to the people.
Instead of investor ownership, a consumer-owned utility is a far better business model. Governed by its customers and bold climate mission, the nonprofit Pine Tree Power Company can support renewables and electrification of homes and transit by borrowing money at a much lower rate and with more willingness – because it’s our utility. A democratic and transparent governance structure will incentivize lower rates and smart investments to improve our worst-in-the-nation power outages. As a bonus, Pine Tree Power will accelerate rural broadband expansion by allowing providers to use the poles for free.
Without shareholders, Pine Tree Power will use its access to low-cost capital to invest in a climate-ready grid. An independent analysis shows that Mainers will save $9 billion over the first 30 years, starting year one, thus keeping money here in the state that would otherwise go to distant shareholders.
We at the Sierra Club strive toward energy democracy: redistributing power, both literally and figuratively, with broad investments in all people and communities. If we stick with CMP and Versant, we are committing to:
• Low-income Mainers paying 19 percent of their income on energy bills
• Being charged 58 percent more than other, consumer-owned utilities in Maine just because we are in a different region (that’s $155 million per year)
• A dirty electrical grid that continues to harm the majority of Mainers – physically and financially
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