Question 3 calls for Pine Tree Power to be run by an elected board. Both the Maine Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court have ruled that if an entity is run by elected officials, it is by definition a government entity.
Further, in April of 2023 the Maine Supreme Court clearly rejected the idea that Pine Tree Power is “consumer-owned” and clearly stated Pine Tree Power would be “governmental in nature” and has “substantial governmental attributes.” In fact, the Supreme Court’s ruling details at least 16 ways in which Pine Tree Power would create a utility that is “governmental in nature” (Jortner et al v Secretary of State (2023)).
The thirteen-member board will be made up of seven elected politicians who, with neither confirmation by nor consultation with the Legislature or the Governor, will then appoint the other six, giving the elected seven even more power. The elected members will represent approximately 150,000 constituents each and hold office for six years – longer than any other state official (Sec. 12. 35-A MRSA c. 40, §4002(2)).
With elections every two years, the board will become one more partisan arena with various special interests fighting for control over the electricity we rely on every single day. As with other political bodies, the priorities of the board could change with each election and investments in grid reliability and upgrades to support clean energy will be subject to political whims and special interests.
Qualifications and experience are not necessary to run for seats on the board. There aren’t many requirements either.
According to the Pine Tree Power legislation, a candidate must be 21 years old, a legal Maine resident for at least one year, and a resident of their district for at least 3 months. The only other requirement is that a candidate cannot hold a state elected office (Sec. 12. 35-A MRSA c. 40, §4002(2)(a)).
With the state’s energy future at stake, it will be very easy for special interests and big donors, likely including oil and gas companies, to contribute to campaigns for the seven elected board seats.
In order to get reelected, board members could prioritize lower electric rates over necessary investments in the grid and better reliability. The Office of the Public Advocate, in its overview of Question 3, acknowledged this could be a problem, stating “priorities of low-cost and reliability are often in tension.”
That’s exactly what played out in Nebraska. Here’s what Nebraska Public Service Commissioner Crystal Rhoades told Maine legislators:
Nebraska’s government-controlled power districts get nearly half of their power from coal because of the political priorities of their boards. They are only now starting to get more from renewable energy sources.