The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Sam May co-founded Smith and May Masonry and is a former Wall Street analyst. He served on Maine’s Economic Recovery Committee and is co-founder and board chair of Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union.
It should come as no surprise that Joshua Broder penned a May 25 column in the BDN in opposition to LD 1708, An Act to Create the Pine Tree Power Company. Broder is a newly minted board member of Versant Power and CEO of Tilson — a company that received millions of dollars in revenues starting in 2012 as a prime contractor to CMP for the roll out of its “smart” meter program. Tilson’s business benefited from a ratepayer-funded technology rollout assisted by Obama era tax dollars. Broder urges us not to rock the boat and suggests Maine citizens could face litigation should we exercise our judgment and rights.
LD 1708, recently endorsed by the Energy, Utilities, and Technology committee, asks the Maine Legislature and governor to put the following question to the Maine people in a referendum this November:
“Do you favor the creation of the Pine Tree Power Company, a nonprofit, privately operated utility governed by a board elected by Maine voters, to replace Central Maine Power and Versant Power, without using tax dollars or state bonds, and to focus on delivering reliable, affordable electricity and meeting the state’s energy independence and Internet connectivity goals?”
Pretty straightforward — a non-profit, owned by ratepayers, managed by a seasoned operator, that uses no state of Maine bonds, emphasizes customer service, keeps rates under control, fosters energy independence, and retains profits in Maine.
Notice there is no mention of a government takeover. Ownership of Pine Tree Power is by Maine ratepayers for the benefit of Maine ratepayers. The board of directors is elected by voters. Current employees keep their jobs with a two-year retention bonus.
The monopoly now known as Versant, where Broder sits on the board, is in fact government owned. Versant is 100 percent owned by ENMAX and ENMAX is 100 percent owned by the City of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In 2021, ENMAX paid its owner, the City of Calgary, a dividend of $58 million in Canadian dollars. The funds are used, in part, to pay for recreation facilities, so it is likely that ratepayers in Maine are paying for the construction of hockey rinks in Calgary!
Broder says he was proud to serve as a co-chair of Maine’s Economic Recovery Committee in 2020. I also served on the committee and was one of several members who encouraged a look at consumer-owned electric utilities. Various subcommittees of the committee came to consensus language around the issue. We thought it wise to recommend that Gov. Janet Mills’ administration consider the relative merits of a different form of ownership as a strategy to save serious money. The Climate Council had already included such a view in its recommendations, in its “Maine Won’t Wait” report.
Meanwhile, CMP’s David Flanagan circulated emails to the committee in opposition, but he was not a committee member. In the final moment our language was removed. If Broder knew then that he would be invited on the board of Versant, it would have been appropriate to recuse himself from the final discussion.
Broder wants us to believe the current profit-driven utility setup is going to see us through, if we just give current management another chance. “Federal support, smart planning and steady leadership,” he wrote.
Is that why CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, pays former Gov. John Baldacci $200,000 per year to be vice chair of its board of directors? Is that why Avangrid hired former legal counsel to Gov. Paul LePage and former Maine Public Utilities Commission member, Carlisle McLean, to be its Corporate Regulatory Senior Counsel? This is the revolving door of government and corporate business. This is the government takeover.
And it’s no surprise to me that Broder is a champion of the status quo. His company stands to make a lot of money from utility work in the coming decades.
I, for one, would like to see Maine’s ratepayers benefit the most, not insiders imploring us to be afraid and stay with the utility system that has given Maine the most and worst outages, the worst customer service, and among the highest costs too.