Referendum Would Create Hurdle To Consumer-Owned Utility

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Opponents of a proposal to replace the state's private utility companies with a consumer-owned utility have crafted a referendum that could create a hurdle to issuing bonds to fund the effort.

The referendum proposal submitted to the secretary of state's office on Tuesday would require voter approval for any quasi-government entity, including a consumer-owned utility, to take on $1 billion or more in debt. It also requires voters to be presented with the full accounting of the cost.

“The principle is straightforward: You should know how much something is going to cost before you commit to borrowing billions of dollars to buy it,” said Willy Ritch from Maine Affordable Energy.

Groups that want to buy out Central Maine Power and Versant power and create a consumer utility called Pine Tree Power also are pressing for a referendum after Gov. Janet Mills vetoed their bill.

The effort came at a time of frustration with CMP, the state’s largest electric utility, over a botched rollout of a billing system, slow response to storm damage and power outages, and a controversial utility corridor that would serve as a conduit for Canadian hydropower.

It's possible both the proposals could appear on the ballot at the same time next year. Both petitions are pending with the secretary of state's office.

Upon approval, supporters can begin collecting signatures from registered voters to formally place them on the ballot. The threshold of valid signatures is 63,067 to reach the ballot.