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Supporters of consumer-owned utility aiming for 2023 ballot

January 19, 2022 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Falling shy of their signature-gathering goal, supporters of a referendum drive aimed at establishing a consumer-owned electric utility will extend their efforts — delaying a potential vote until next year.

Canvassers collected nearly three quarters of the roughly 63,000 signatures that are needed to force a statewide vote on the issue, and they will continue their signature-collection efforts in coming months, Stephanie Clifford, campaign manager for Our Power, said in a statement Wednesday.

“We’re in it for the long run and forging ahead until we get the job done. Every signature is valid for twelve months, and our ongoing efforts will soon give Mainers a choice,” she said.

The referendum drive gathered steam after Democratic Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill to eliminate Maine’s privately owned electric utilities by buying them out and replacing them with a consumer-owned utility that would be called Pine Tree Power.

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Supporters said it’s time to replace Central Maine Power and Versant Power, which are owned by corporations in Spain and Canada, with an entity that works in the interest of Mainers instead of shareholders.

Pine Tree Power would keep rates low, respond faster to outages and support clean energy projects, they said.

Critics accused the bill’s supporters of underestimating the cost of buying the utility companies and said ratepayers would be saddled with billions of dollars of debt from the purchase and litigation.