SEPTEMBER MONTHLY MEETING
Virtual via Zoom
Sunday, September 10th, 7:00 - 9:00 PM
Gather (7:00p-7:10 PM) (48 Participants)
Introduction by the PDCC Executive Committee & tonight’s speakers
Reports & Minutes (7:10-7:15 PM)
Call to Order (Quorum met)
Working on bylaws updates
Thinking about holding a Mayoral debate, stay tuned!
We very sadly no longer have our treasurer or a formal treasurer report for this month. Meg is the acting treasurer until someone else is chosen.
Looking to update the bylaws before the coming election year
We have had one bylaws meeting so far and looked at technical and grammatical updates as well as changing some of our policies around committees and officers
Any changes to our bylaws will come before the whole PDCC for discussion, and then one month later again for a formal vote.
Approve minutes of June Meeting (HERE)
Motion to accept, 2nded, no objections
Approve minutes of August Meeting (HERE)
Motion to accept, 2nded, no objections
Panel Discussion: Question 3 – An Act to Create the Pine Tree Power Company, a Nonprofit, Customer-owned Utility. (7:15p-8:45 PM)
Question 3 on the November 2023 Referendum Election ballot will read, “Do you want to create a new power company governed by an elected board to acquire and operate existing for-profit electricity transmission and distribution facilities in Maine?”
Meg Harnard introduces the two panelists before they give their own brief introductions. They each have 10 minutes to present and then 5 additional minutes to rebut followed by a 10 minute Q & A period.
Lucy Hochschartner on behalf of the Pine Tree Power campaign (PTP)
Speaking in support of Yes on Question 3
Jim Cohen on behalf of the Maine Affordable Energy Coalition (AEC)
speaking in support of No on Question 3
Works for Verrill Dayna law firm
Represents investor owned (IOU) and consumer owned utilities (COU)
Works with solar developers, helping connect them to the grid
Zoom recording begins 7:19 PM
Lucy - PTP 7:19 PM - 7:29 PM
Shares testimonials of people upset with what she characterizes as CMP price gouging
Question 3 will create a new Pine Tree Power company owned by the people
CMP and Versant are our state’s electric supply distributors, are investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and bring in $187 million in profit
Maine gets 20% rate hikes, 94,000 disconnection notices, and among the most frequent outages in the country and the worst customer satisfaction in the country.
What is Pine Tree Power
Keeps money in our hands, will save Mainers an average of $367/year
Will allow us to invest those savings in the grid rather than sending them to overseas shareholders
What is a consumer-owned utility
COU are owned by the people they serve
Historically, COU were even more common – investors bought up a lot of them
10 COU in maine to supply 98 towns
25% of Americans are served by COU
How do we do it?
When we vote yes, we create a new independent nonprofit Pine Tree Power Company
Elect 7 board members who appoint 6 experts
We buy out CMP and Versant in a way that saves Mainers money from day one – use a revenue bond (low cost mortgage
Board highers a private contractor who hires all existing workers to do the jobs they do best
Maine PUC said “degradation in the quality of service seems to be coincident with the change in Avangrid’s management structure and the removal of operational decisions from local company
Former CMP staff took issue with the system
Two graphs comparing existing COU to CMP and Versant (52% cheaper)
Economic analysis shows future projections (savings start from day one and accumulate over time, $9B over 30 years, averages $367/year)
Maine has most frequent outages in the nation
People who own utilities are not incentivized to prevent or fix them quickly
PUC across the country restored outages twice as fast
COU are leading the way to reduce carbon emissions
Not a single IOY has achieved 100% renewable
Cheaper to make necessary grid upgrades
Kennebunk Light and Power – delivery rate is 2 cents
Nebraska – whole state has public power – far cheaper rates and more reliable
Maseena, NY – rates dropped 24% from day one
Corporations and the tobacco industry playbook
Opposition has put over $27M so far towards their campaign to stop PTP
Ads and mail to spread misinformation about how PTP would work
Jim (AEC) 7:30 PM - 7:40 PM
Statements from the Governor
Two years ago, Mills classified a statewide COU as “a rosy solution to a complicated set of problems.
Would set us up for a decade of litigation. During that time we would be falling backwards on our climate goals.
Electric systems are complex. We have to make sure they’re in balance. Every electric system has a careful interplay of software and billing systems. If we’re going to make a change, it has to be the right change because the consequences will be severe.
Reactions from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) which regulates our utilities
There is nothing in Q 3 that will ensure lower rates or improve service quality.
There is nothing in Q3 that improves climate justice. There are reasons to expect the opposite might occur.
Comparing to other states/COUs
Nebraska, commonly referenced as a comparison since they have a statewide COU, is mostly a coal state. Maine is mostly renewable. Just this past summer, the Nebraska COU came out against Biden’s clean energy plan.
No state has tried to take over its electric utility before. All of these COU are on the local or county level, aside from Nebraska. And no state has tried to take over two and combine them into one.
Oversight and qualifications
The PUC makes sure the utility companies can’t raise their rate until they go through about a year of litigation.
The decision to hire more employees is subject to approval.
Consumer owned utilities will also disconnect people, but there will be less oversight
The only qualification to be one of the 7 elected officials on the board of PTP is that you must be 21 y/o and you must live in the district. The 6 appointees are chosen by the 7. There is no qualification for any individual of the 6, just the collective 6.
PTP will hire a for-profit private company to operate the grid. That private grid operator could be CMP and Versant all over again
Timing and costs
The PUC said it would be about 5-10 years for the takeover to happen. It could be even longer as it has been in other states. We will be writing a blank check in 2023 if we approve this but we won’t actually know what the proposal will ultimately look like since it will be subject to changes during litigation.
Long Island did the same thing and are more in debt today than they were 25 years ago.
Who will the grid operator be? It’s a small universe of people who do that. When Long Island got upset with their current grid operator, they couldn’t find anyone to replace them.
There is a savings that happens when the government borrows money because it can borrow for less. The PUC said the savings are about 3.5%. Savings are offset by the large amount of debt we’ll take on. The management company will charge us excessive fees. The combination of those two things means that it will be more expensive.
CMP and Versant and Labor Unions are very against this.
Give new laws a chance
We passed a law last year requiring the PUC to require CMP to meet 6 different standards in order to continue operating. We should give this new system a chance to work.
Opportunity to respond 7:42 PM -7:47 PM
AEC is entirely backed by CMP and Versant, PTP is supported by 90% of Mainers, thousands of individuals.
This exact proposal has not been done elsewhere, but versions of it have been tested and have been successful in reducing rates.
It comes down to this - do you want a utility that is owned by you, or do you want a utility that is owned by investors whose only job is to make money?
Climate justice organizations are supportive of this measure including, YES on Maine Youth for Climate Justice, the Sierra Club and others.
CMP and their board are owned by gas interests.
It is disingenuous to suggest PTP would get rid of fore-profit companies when the proposal mandates that PTP hire a for-profit company to administer the service.
Labor Unions are against the proposal. CMP and Versant employees are against the proposal and Gov. Mills and former legislators from both sides of the aisle are against this.
Only a couple environmental groups have actually signed on, several have remained silent on the issue.
Iberdrola (owner of CMP) is actually a leader of renewable tech.
On the low end it’s $8.2 million to buy out CMP and Versant. Bolder, CO spent $28 million in legal fees and they still haven’t seen cleaner energy.
Shifting to Q&A period
Q: Bill W. (Volunteer with Portland Climate Action Team) Meeting the state’s renewable portfolio standards are critical to meeting climate goals.Lucy - How would PTP accomplish cleaner energy without increasing costs? Jim – why can’t CMP make a similar commitment?
A: Lucy – PTP does not deal with generation. PTP is just distribution (like CMP and Versant). CMP and Versant are frequently the biggest anti climate lobbyists. PTP would be getting them out of the equation.
Process of interconnections. If you have your outlet in the kitchen, you need to make sure you’re not plugging too many things in so you don’t short out the grid. CMP and Versant have taken these as opportunities to slow down the process. CMP was fined for slow interconnections. Versant has massive costs to interconnect. PTP would be committed to that process.
Maine has a unique need for an expanded grid. Part of our climate goals include making a larger and more capable grid. That will be better planned when we are the ones to make those decisions rather than Iberdrola.
This will be cheaper because of how the government can borrow money; the savings will enable us to invest more money in the grid.
A: Jim – I work with solar developers and CMP and Versant to connect to the grid every day. It is not fair to levy the blame solely at the feet of the utilities. We have a regional grid operator that creates challenges. We have a PUC that creates challenges regarding how we can spend money.
If CMP and Versant saw as much profit as is being suggested, they would be invested in updating the grid.
CMP and Versant supported Net Energy Billing.
If CMP or Versant does a bad job, they can be fined. There’s no one to fine if the COU does a bad job.
Q; Robert Cabeca – not a fan of CMP. Question to Lucy – you presented Q. 3 as if it were an immediate solution. Jim presented information about how this could be a 10-12 year process before Maine could see a benefit in their bills. Lucy, what is the real timeframe that you’re proposing if people were to vote yes on this?
A: Lucy - PTP believes that we will have a new power company by 2027. Initial instances of the bill had less about how the transition actually happened. The bill now lays out a clear process for the transition. We’ve seen that the opposition will spread a lot of doubt here. This bill has already been cleared by the PUC as constitutional by an analysis they commissioned. When you look at who is supporting these bills, climate experts, Bill Mickinin, Bernie Sanders. We need a robust delivery infrastructure and that is not happening with CMP and right now we have no recourse to make it happen. Owned by foreign corporation who made 2.7B. PUC has had a hard time regulating them.
A: Jim – Question about how long this process was going to take. If we’re going to bring in red herrings and information about. PUC said this week that 5-10 years is a reasonable amount of time.mConstitutionality of this proposal hasn’t been tested in the courts. Do we want more litigation? We have an immediate problem now. We should spend our time solving the climate process, not litigating utility buy-outs.
Q: Josh Barber – Works in utility space. I don’t think we’d be here having this conversation if it weren’t for low reliability and low customer service metrics that we’ve seen and that are hard to argue with in the past couple of years. Both of you – how would you see improvements on those metrics?
A: Lucy – PTP saves 9M dollars from day one. Neither campaign can talk about what it will do to rates because that’s based on the rate setting issue. Reliability issue – IOU make money off of large capital investments, not necessarily smaller things we need to be doing to improve the grid like interconnection or tree trimming. They make money on large investments like the corridor (12%) return. The PTP’s mandate includes working towards all of these things, including small but critical updates. CMP and Versant can have great regulators but these utilities specialize in evading regulation. That would not be the job of the PTP. We see this with big oil and gas companies, insurance companies, etc.
A: Jim – quite a charge to say that a company exists to evade regulation. If you look at Maine Law today, it requires utilities to provide safe, reliable and adequate service. Rates must be just and reasonable. Just last year, 2022, Gov. Mills put forward a bill that was passed by the Legislature that said that utilities will be measured by six performance criteria. If they don’t meet those metrics, they can be fined. If they continue not to meet those metrics, they can lose their franchise.
Affirmative endorsement vote discussion 8:20 PM
Bill – this is a valiant effort. Disappointed that we could not at least agree on the financial aspects. This should be clear.
Ken – CMP will actually answer the phone, the state won’t.
Todd – I’m in support of endorsing Q 3. Concerns for the workers. We should not assume that they won’t have a job. They would be offered positions in the new COU. We’re currently paying rent to a landlord to CMP or Versant. We could buy the grid ourselves, paying a mortgage rather than paying rent to another company/out of state. Opportunity to take control of our electric grid at a pivotal moment.
Jason Shedlock – president of Maine State Buildings and Construction Council. Sit on AFL-CIO, Southern Maine Labor Council. As a union member, as a member of this local and this union I must say, the workers are not in support of this Question. I’m aware that reasonable minds disagree. Concerned about a LePage 3.0 could come in. Public employees cannot strike or engage in binding arbitration.
Robert Cabeca – There are more questions that have been brought up. I doubt that this is the right solution for a number of different reasons. There has to be a better solution to hold the power companies accountable.
Meg makes a motion to vote in the affirmative on Q 3, seconded: PDCC should endorse Q 3 in the positive, no vote is we should NOT endorse in the positive at this time: 8:36 PM
19 yes, 22 no.
Negative endorsement vote discussion 8:41 PM
Bill – clarification on what we’re voting on
Crockett – PDCC should not take a stance
BJ – take the position of the AFL-CIO and oppose the initiative
Lookner – PDCC should stay out of it.
Ken – Question is, should we as a group endorse a position on this. I don’t know why we would or would not. With 22-19, that’s not really a huge margin. Endorse the No vote.
Skold – PDCC should not oppose Q. 3. Last time I said yes on Q 3, but because the margins were small, I will be voting no on this question with the hope that we do not take a position one way or another.
Todd – I will be voting no. I wonder how many of those who were disconnected from the utility were Union members. Not encouraging us to endorse it, but consider how close the vote was and maybe say we as Portland Dems are not quite sure yet and so we don’t endorse either way.
Carolyn – Not enough time, big decision, we should say no to this one.
Meg makes a motion to vote in the negative on Q 3, seconded: Should PDCC endorse a No on Q 3 position? 8:50 PM
18 yes. 22 no.
Open floor for nominations for PDCC secretary 8:52 PM
Samantha Gottwald self-nominated
Robert Cabeca self-nominated
Each candidate give a brief word about why they are interested (2mins) 8:53 PM
Samantha – Lived in ME since 2017 and Portland since 2019. Have been involved with PDCC since this summer and would like to get more involved. Have taken a special interest in the Portland housing crisis and how to get to a better place with that.
Robert – Portland resident. Been in ME since 2018. Owns multiple businesses including a TV and film production studio with Portland media center and online businesses. An instructor of cyber security and the cybersecurity world. Has been involved with PDCC for two years, and wants to get more and more involved in local politics. Looking for other ways to hold himself accountable to being and staying informed and to be of service and to help this group grow and be more accessible to more folks who want to get involved.
Open floor for discussion 8:56 PM
Charles – would either of you be interested in the Treasurer position
Crockett – Are there any other candidates for the treasurer position? If the question is no, we’ve got two great candidates before us.
Ken – considering the treasurer role
End discussion and open vote 8:59 PM – 9:01 PM
16 for Samantha, 7 for Robert. Samatha is our new Secretary.
Announcements and adjourn 9:03 - 9:07 PM
Treasurer election tabled until next month!
Next Issues Subcommittee meeting Monday Sept. 18!
Stay tuned for next Bylaws meeting
Next PDCC general meeting Sunday, Oct. 8
Robert is helping us with website updates – exciting!!
We are going to have a Run Local training on October 15. Right on Forrest Ave in person. Run by the Maine Dems. Pizza party, run local training. If you’ve ever been interested in running yourself or running a campaign, this is for you! At Portland Stage 5:30-7:30pm.
Lookner – this Friday there will be a demonstration opposing the sweeps of the homeless encampments that have been happening. I’m quite appalled that our city is choosing to take that tact. From 4-6pm in front of city hall. This Friday, Sept. 15. City Hall
Jason – Maine State Building and Construction Council and Maine State Building Council hosting a Mayoral debate on the 16th at the Irish Heritage Center. Would like to make their space LIUNA available to PDCC
PDCC exec team stayed on the call after adjournment for any further informal discussion or questions from members