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Ahead of election, Mills renews skepticism about consumer takeover of electric utilities

Gov. Janet Mills delivers her State of the Budget address to the Legislature, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, at the State House in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP file
Gov. Janet Mills delivers her State of the Budget address to the Legislature, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, at the State House in Augusta, Maine.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills continues to express skepticism over a ballot measure that would take over Maine's two largest electric utilities and replace them with a nonprofit operated by an elected board.

The governor told Maine Calling Thursday that she'll announce a more formal position on Question 3 in the coming weeks, but she outlined a range of concerns with the proposal known as Pine Tree Power.

Among them is that a takeover of Central Maine Power and Versant Power would likely be a costly and litigious endeavor that, if completed, could introduce partisan politics into electricity delivery without concrete advantages to ratepayers.

"I'm concerned that it's proposed to be a simple solution to a very complex problem," she said. "And you know what H.L. Mencken said, 'For every complex problem there's an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.' This might be the wrong answer to a complex problem."

Mills' reservations about the utility takeover — and her use of the Mencken quote to express them — are not new.

In 2021 she vetoed a bill similar to Question 3 laying out similar concerns.

The governor's comments follow an overview of the proposal released this week by the Office of the Public Advocate.

The Public Advocate took no position on Question 3 and its fact sheet primarily laid out a range of scenarios that could affect the cost, risk and benefits to ratepayers.

The fact sheet also floated the possibility that the elected members of Pine Tree Power might feel political pressure to keep rates low at the expense of investments to improve reliability.

The Public Advocate did not conduct its own analysis to determine the possible effects on electricity rates.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.