The effort to create a consumer-owned utility called Pine Tree Power failed decisively Tuesday, with more than 70 percent of voters casting ballots against the measure.
The referendum vote ended more than two years of back-and-forth on the proposal, which first arose as a bill introduced to the Maine House of Representatives by Rep. Seth Berry in 2021. The question was put on the ballot after the 2021 bill was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills, who also opposed Question 3.
Tuesday’s result means there will be no change in who controls the poles, wires and substations that deliver electricity throughout the state, infrastructure owned primarily by Central Maine Power and Versant Power. CMP is part of Avangrid, a subsidiary of Spanish utility Iberdrola; Versant Power is owned by Enmax, a Canadian utility company owned by the city of Calgary.
Proponents of Pine Tree Power garnered high-profile endorsements from prominent figures, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and climate activist Bill McKibben, but were outspent on advertising 37-1, which Al Cleveland, the Pine Tree Power campaign manager, said in a statement the campaign “couldn’t overcome.”
Despite the resounding defeat, the campaign remained defiant, saying the loss “does not change the fact that the state’s corporate utilities are failing Mainers and there is a powerful movement demanding better.”
Pine Tree Power supporters argued that, in part by not sending profits to shareholders, a consumer-owned utility would be able to lower rates, better help the state meet its clean energy goals and provide more reliable service. Our Power, which led the campaign for the change, raised roughly $1.2 million, mostly from individuals.
Opponents of the measure maintained that any savings to ratepayers would be offset by the billions the new utility would spend acquiring the assets of CMP and Versant, and a legal fight over the cost would distract from and delay progress on combating climate change.
Parent companies of the two utilities spent more than $37 million to defeat the proposal, with the Enmax-controlled Political Action Committee, Maine Energy Progress, spending $14.5 million, and the Avangrid-controlled PAC, Maine Affordable Energy, spending $23.3 million.
“We are grateful that Maine voters took the time to learn about this expensive and risky scheme,” said B.J. McCollister, campaign manager for Maine Energy Progress.
“Question 3 would have put Maine people on the hook for $13.5 billion, with no guarantee of lower rates or faster progress on the transition away from fossil fuels. Question 3 presented itself as a simple solution to very complex issues, and voters weren’t willing to take a chance on something as important as our state’s electrical grid.