David Barber, senior consultant and former president of Barber Foods, opposes the Question 3 Pine Tree Power referendum. He cites the vagueness of the plan to create a public power utility as a primary reason he’s against it. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Douglas Yohman recalls with pride his efforts in a Maine winter collecting signatures to halt the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line. Now he’s targeting privately owned power in the state.

With letters and other advocacy, the Waterboro resident is urging Mainers to approve Question 3 on the Nov. 7 ballot, replacing Central Maine Power and Versant Power with a publicly owned and controlled power company. He said Question 3 – and another ballot measure, Question 2, that would limit how much foreign companies can spend on political activity in Maine – would allow state residents to determine what is best for their energy needs.

“I don’t feel like pushing too much,” Yohman said of his strategy of persuading people to support the measure. “Just to have citizen awareness, to have people know what the issues are.”

Tom Testa, a restaurant owner in Bar Harbor, opposes the ballot measure.

“There’s no plan,” he said of the proponents’ efforts. “The problem I have with this is, is they’re going to do this and going to do that. How? What? Where? Who’s going to do it? Where’s the math?”

Testa and Yohman represent the divide among Maine voters who will be asked to decide the state’s energy future. If Question 3 passes, Pine Tree Power will take over the 28,000 miles of transmission lines and other assets of CMP and Versant’s power delivery business, create an elected and appointed board of overseers, and hire a third-party operator to keep the electricity flowing to Maine homes and businesses. But questions around the cost and legality of the takeover, the experience of the new board and new delivery operator, the timeline, and the veracity of promises of lower cost and more reliable power have sown confusion.


“I just can’t imagine we can pull it off,” said David Barber, of Cape Elizabeth. “There’s no understanding of how you get there.”


The proposal to substitute Maine’s two investor-owned utilities with a publicly owned power company is the most-watched issue on the ballot, spawning numerous forums and a debate over the role of for-profit electricity and what an alternative system might look like. Nearly everything about it has come under attack from the utilities’ allies, who range from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, which opposes Pine Tree Power as a “government takeover,” to the Maine AFL-CIO, which is worried about the future of utility workers’ jobs if a new boss takes over.

The cost of Pine Tree Power, as the new utility would be known, has been among the sharpest points of contention. Opponents say buying the assets of CMP and Versant using eminent domain would cost $13.5 billion. They calculate the price tag by including the utilities’ net book value plus an “acquisition multiplier” that accounts for a fully operational business and hundreds of skilled workers.

Supporters of the ballot measure say the cost would be half what critics say. They cite filings by the utilities with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission showing a purchase price at book value plus a premium that would be about $5.5 billion for CMP and $1.7 billion for Versant.

Either way, most observers believe litigation, which could drag on for years, would decide the purchase price.


Pine Tree Power would be governed by a board of seven elected officials who would appoint six other members. Supporters say this would bring decision-making back to Maine. CMP is a subsidiary of Avangrid, a unit of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, and Versant is owned by Enmax, a Calgary energy company.

Critics question whether those elected to the board would be qualified to oversee an electric utility, which is among the most complicated businesses to operate. Gov. Janet Mills, who opposes the ballot measure, said the new utility would be run by politicians, an opinion voiced by others who oppose Question 3.

Pine Tree Power would contract out for a company to manage its transmission and distribution system. That, too, has been criticized by opponents who say an operator must have deep experience in line maintenance and repairs to maintain a network of poles and lines in a state more heavily forested than any other in the U.S.

Supporters say a transmission and distribution company managed by a company selected by the Pine Tree Power board is another way to guarantee local control.

For some, the range of opinions and information about the issue complicates decision-making on how to vote. Joshua Kercsmar, who teaches history and writing at Unity College, said he hasn’t made up his mind.

“I’m still educating myself on Pine Tree Power. I understand the frustration driving people to this. You sense a visceral frustration among consumers against CMP,” he said, citing a botched rollout of a new billing and metering system in 2018 that sent some ratepayers’ bills skyrocketing.


He said “a lot of unknowns,” particularly the costs, are dogging Question 3: “I definitely hear both sides.”


Organized labor is split over Question 3. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union opposes the measure, insisting that union members who work for the utilities would become public employees of Pine Tree Power and lose private-sector labor rights such as the right to call a strike. The Maine AFL-CIO also opposes Question 3, expressing solidarity with the IBEW. Together, the union and labor federation represent more than 40,000 workers.

Supporters of Question 3 say workers would continue to be private-sector employees, working for the management company hired by Pine Tree Power. A provision of the legislation for Question 3 requires that former frontline workers of CMP and Versant be hired by the new operator and be given retention bonuses.

The two sides disagree about whether employees of the third-party operator would be considered private or public employees. Private workers who belong to a union have the right to strike, while public employees do not. That distinction is why most of the state’s labor groups oppose Question 3.

The Maine State Nurses Association, with a membership of 4,000, backs the utility takeover. It says the reliable delivery of electricity is a matter of public health.


Climate change also has played a role in the debate. Backers say Pine Tree Power, as a tax-free organization, could tap capital markets and pay lower interest rates than investor-owned utilities as it seeks to build out electrification and other infrastructure to reduce Maine’s carbon footprint.

Critics say Mills’ climate plan would be slowed by “this fight over just poles and wires,” as Charlotte Warren, a former state representative who opposes the measure, put it at a recent League of Women Voters forum.  They point out that Pine Tree Power would affect only a portion of consumers’ electric bills because utilities have been out of the generation business since the industry was restructured by state law in 2000.

The deregulation prohibits a company from both generating power and delivering it. Today, generation is open to competition while transmission and distribution services are still provided by the utilities.

“We are spending all of this time and energy focused on just the mailman,” Warren said. “It’s just the delivery of our electricity when what we should be focused on is generation.”

Barber, whose Portland family business, Barber Foods, was acquired by Tyson Foods, said the company uses a “staggering amount of electricity.” He questioned whether Pine Tree Power would upgrade the grid to accommodate a surge in electrification from heat pumps, electric vehicles and other infrastructure intended to reduce the impact of climate change.

“Who’s going to be doing all this work?” he asked. “No one is focusing on … getting all those projects underway.”



In Maine, a ratepayer’s monthly electric bill is divided into two parts, one charging for power supply and  the other for delivery. Question 3 only addresses the delivery portion.

The cost to supply electricity has increased because of the rising price of natural gas that powers generators and turbulence in global markets following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Increases in delivery must be approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, and the outcome of Question 3 won’t affect that.

Testa, the Bar Harbor restaurant owner who opposes Pine Tree Power, said he’s looking for “great detail” about how the new utility would work.

“So far, there’s nothing,” he said. “All I’ve seen … is how horrible the power (companies) are. That does not make your plan doable. Who’s going to finance it? Just give them your wonderful idea and get a bunch of money?”

CMP and Versant are spending heavily to persuade voters to reject the ballot measure. In the past few months, Maine Affordable Energy – the ballot question committee controlled by CMP’s parent company, Avangrid – spent at least $4.5 million on television ads, excluding production costs. The committee also is spending heavily on direct mail and online ads.


Maine Energy Progress, the committee controlled by Versant’s parent company, Enmax, has spent more than $2.7 million on TV ads, excluding production costs. The committee also spent more than $66,000 on polling last month.

Avangrid has donated $21.8 million to the campaign, including nearly $10.9 million this year, while Enmax has contributed $13.4 million, including $12.5 million this year.

In contrast, Our Power, the leading group backing the utility takeover, has raised slightly less than $1 million since it was established in December 2020, including $450,000 this year.

The campaign has drawn many small-dollar donors from Maine and is getting significant support from out-of-state interests. The San Francisco-based 128 Collective, which focuses on climate change policy, is the campaign’s largest donor, giving $150,000, including $50,000 since Aug. 25.

“You’re getting outspent 36 to 1,” Yohman said. The deep pockets of CMP’s corporate parents is one reason Yohman wants to see Pine Tree Power win. Money sent out of state in corporate profits could be spent in Maine to improve the reliability of the grid, he and other backers say.

He complained about the rising cost of electricity in Maine. He said he’s “pretty conservative” in his electricity use, with his monthly bill previously reaching $100 only rarely. It’s now “regularly above $100,” he said.



William Thieme, of Cumberland, said he believes power outages are frequent, and he blames CMP. He loses a few hundred dollars a year in his IT business because of outages, he said.

William Thieme, a supporter of Question 3, says many people are upset at how CMP is managing the grid and believes making a change is better than having consumers resign themselves to the status quo. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I talk to a lot of people who are incredibly upset about the choices CMP has made, how they’re managing the grid,” Thieme said. “Even people who are uncertain about the details of Pine Tree Power agree what we have is not working.”

CMP says it has spent $3 billion over the last 10 years to improve its infrastructure, including new and stronger power lines that resist fallen trees and branches, sturdier poles that weather storms, tree care and automation to reduce the impact of outages.

A 2021 paper by Concentric Energy Advisors Inc., which was retained by CMP to evaluate claims regarding electric reliability in Maine generally and for the utility specifically, said CMP’s reliability was better during the previous five years than consumer-owned utilities in northern New England.

Spending to strengthen the electric system increases costs to customers “regardless of whether the utility is investor-owned or consumer-owned,” the report said. The level of reliability must be balanced with the cost of providing such reliability, it said.


Mark Read, who teaches communications at Southern Maine Community College, supports Question 3. He notices a disparity in funding that has skewed advertising in favor of Question 3 opponents.

He said he’s seen many ads from the Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, backed in part by CMP,  that oppose the ballot question and notices yard signs that favor Pine Tree Power. “There’s a lot of deceptive advertising,” Read said, citing claims that Pine Tree Power would lead to higher utility bills.

However the future of Maine’s electricity system is decided Nov. 7, both sides believe litigation will follow. The state’s public advocate, who has not taken a position on the question, estimated in his analysis of the measure that legal challenges could take from five to 10 years to resolve.

But Thieme downplays the threat of delays. “There are always court cases and things,” he said. “If we don’t do it, change is going to come even slower.”

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