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Power companies spend millions to fight Maine’s proposed non-profit utility

The referendum presents a threat not only to Avangrid’s business model in Maine but to the utilities it operates in Connecticut and New York. (The Guardian/Getty Images)

By Mario Ariza for Floodlight and the Guardian and Tux Turkel for the Portland Press Herald

Residents in Maine are about to be bombarded with a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign aimed at saving the state’s two dominant electric utilities from being voted out of existence in November.

If Mainers vote yes, they will make history – endorsing a first-of-its-kind plan to create a state-level, public power company through a hostile takeover.

But the parent companies of the existing utilities are spending millions to try and stop that.

It’s a vote which experts say could reverberate around the country as legacy, investor-owned utilities are being challenged to decarbonize while state officials adopt more aggressive climate agendas amid customer frustration at high rates and outages.

“This is one ship they don’t want to see launched,” said Kenneth Colburn, a former consultant with the global energy policy firm Regulatory Assistance Project, speaking about investor-backed utilities across the US. “Because it could turn into an armada.”

Existing utilities want to maintain control over the poles and wires and the profits that flow from them while activists say a not-for-profit company managed by local people can bring about a transition that’s more reliable and less costly.

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