Local Politics

(Opinion) Central Maine Problems

Central Maine Power (CMP) has been supplying electricity to Maine for decades. During their tenure, they’ve gained a monopoly on utilities in Maine, and have become a powerful entity in the state. How is it possible that a company that’s not even from the U.S. has such a hold on our state’s utilities? 

CMP started supplying power to Mainers in 1899, starting in the town of Oakland, Maine. CMP’s area of service covers over 10,000 square miles and supplies power to almost 80% of the population of Maine. CMP is owned by Avangrid, which is owned by their Spanish parent company, Iberdrola. One of the reasons the Maine government has had so many issues reining in CMP is because they’re owned by Iberdrola, an international company with different regulations. Iberdrola has been under investigation for espionage in Spain for the past 15 years. Iberdrola also allegedly hired a police chief to spy on the head of the soccer team Real Madrid, Florentino Perez. Perez owns a construction company that was aiming to be part of Iberdrola’s board.

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Controversy for Iberdrola goes from the top to the bottom of their companies as CMP is infamous for their 145-mile corridor sending hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts. The corridor has zero positives for Mainers. A classic tale of greedy corporate execs who live thousands of miles away, profiting off of others they’ll never have to face. The line travels through a large stretch of Maine’s wilderness and poses a grave danger to our wildlife. Executives at CMP and Hydro-Quebec will profit billions from the corridor and will stop at nothing to see that the construction is completed. 

Maine Public reports that Mainers voted through a referendum to block CMP’s corridor from being constructed, however, Maine’s courts have ruled it unconstitutional. The corridor was already under construction but was brought to a pause following the referendum. Maine’s supreme judicial court decided that it violated the constitutional “rights” of the corporations, because of their permit from the public utility commission. The Maine Supreme Court has sent the case to the lower courts for a closer examination. Only in America will the courts give more rights to giant corporations than its own citizens. 

The corridor has already surpassed half of its projected budget, nearing $500 million. Most of the 145 miles of the corridor are pre-existing, but the issue is within the 53 miles that need to be cut down for the completion of the corridor. Most of the trees have already been cut down, as CMP knew the referendum was approaching, and they rapidly went to work anticipating a stoppage to their project. People supporting the corridor claim it will be beneficial in terms of reducing carbon emissions because hydro is “clean.” Will the benefits outweigh the 53 miles of the interrupted forest? 

Even if the corridor is cleaner than the alternatives, it has no benefit to Mainers. It’s another example of Massachusetts and Canada ruining Maine’s ecosystem for profit. Mainers won’t get any of the hydraulic power being produced, as it goes directly to Massachusetts. Our democracy showed that Mainers are tired of foreign entities earning billions of dollars off of our land, yet the public’s vote has no power when there are billions at stake. 

CMP and their parent companies have been siphoning money from Mainers through exorbitant costs for years. In 2021 a lawsuit was filed against Avangrid CMP’s parent company, alleging racketeering. Executives and contractors allegedly conspired to enrich themselves through a bidding process for new equipment and plans.

 Avangrid and their contractors purchased new equipment that wasn’t needed each year as an excuse to tack on additional costs to customers. Paulo Silva, CEO of Security Limits, a firm specializing in cyber security, alleges that Avangrid schemed to purchase new equipment at up to 50% higher than market price. This extra equipment is supposedly sitting in warehouses in Maine and New York. What’s significant about these allegations is that Avangrid can reimburse themselves for their spending on such equipment, because it’s deemed necessary for the operation of their business. Avangrid reimburses the cost of the equipment, and an additional percentage of their profit margin, by charging customers higher rates. Avangrid denies the allegations and claims that Silva is a disgruntled contractor. Avangrid is also upset by Silva’s comments that Iberdrola has been indicted on espionage charges when they have yet to be charged, following the investigation. 

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Governor Janet Mills has tasked the public utility commission with investigating CMP’s purchases. The commission is closely following Avangrid’s case and has considered a separate investigation into the company following an audit that places blame on Avangrid for CMPs array of issues. CMP is attempting to address these issues after being fined over $9 million and facing an independent audit. CMP is creating an improvement plan aiming to add new seats on Avangrid’s board, a community relations branch, and a listening council. It is too early to tell if these changes will have any impact on the issues. CMP is obviously worried about optics and wants to get the feds off of their back. Can these corporations be trusted after all these scandals? Is the listening council actually going to help customers? 

Aside from the utility commission, former legislator Seth Berry is fighting to replace CMP with a consumer-based utility company. Berry is resigning from the legislature to focus more of his time on the consumer-owned utility initiative. While he held the position of representative for Bowdoinham, Berry served as chair of the joint standing committee on energy, utilities, and technology. Berry also helped put forth a bill to establish the consumer-based utility company, called Pine tree Power, which eventually got vetoed by Governor Mills. Pine Tree Power would buy out the investor-owned utilities and give power and internet to consumers for lower prices. While this initial bill didn’t pass, Berry has committed to fighting CMP and the other utility company Versant. 

Utility companies have regional monopolies all over the United States, and created their own regulations allowing them to hold monopolies over energy, which is a vital resource. These companies are almost untouchable, scheming to profit by outrageous amounts of money from struggling Mainers. Scandals, serious investigations, and democratic votes haven’t been able to put these corporations in check. Still, the fight against these CMP  is headed in the right direction, as legislatures and initiatives are still trying to limit their power. The rest of the world is already on track for renewable energy and utility companies that work for the people, it’s up to Maine to light the way.

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