The Natural Resources Council of Maine announced Wednesday that it’s backing a statewide ballot measure that calls for a public utility to replace Central Maine Power and Versant Power.

Rebecca Schultz, senior advocate of Maine’s most well-known environmental advocacy group, said in an email that the public utility, known as Pine Tree Power, “offers our best chance to advance the clean energy transition with the accountability, creativity and collaboration necessary to keep costs as low as possible.” The ballot measure is one of eight to be decided on Election Day on Nov. 7.

Promoting the transition to zero-carbon energy hinges on wind, solar and other clean sources of energy to be “delivered through a reliable, flexible and affordable electric grid,” she said.

“Voting Yes on Question 3 is our best chance to get it right,” Schultz said.

A position paper by the NRCM acknowledges “many outstanding questions” about acquisition costs, possible delays due to litigation, regional transmission tariffs and other issues.

“Resolving each of these open questions will require public vigilance and expert scrutiny all along the way,” NRCM said. “But ultimately, the energy transition is a long-term effort and we need to think about this from the perspective of the future.”

Willy Ritch, who’s leading the opposition to Pine Tree Power, cited NRCM’s warning about outstanding questions that he says focus on the multibillion-dollar cost of seizing the state’s utilities and that NRCM acknowledged that rates are almost certain to go up.

Urging Mainers to “get creative” about how to pay for the clean energy transition – a very costly endeavor with no price tag – as NRCM does, “sounds like a risky gamble on an uncertain future with the only guarantees are higher rates and billions of dollars in debt,” Ritch said.

Advocates of the ballot measure say Maine’s two investor-owned utilities charge excessive rates and are responsible for too many outages. The utilities accuse backers of Pine Tree Power of overpromising the benefits of a new utility that has no track record and therefore may fall far short of expectations.

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