CMP corridor faces court test that could determine its path after a 2020 referendum

Bangor Daily News

There are many lawsuits around Central Maine Power’s proposed powerline project, but perhaps the most consequential one will be hashed out today.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments in a lawsuit from CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, that seeks to overturn a lower-court decision to allow the anti-corridor referendum on the 2020 ballot. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has agreed with CMP that the question could be unconstitutional, but he and a judge have said the question should remain on the ballot anyway.

The utility and its allies will try to convince the high court that there is “no compelling reason to permit the misuse of the initiative process” and decide on the referendum’s constitutionality afterward, according to a brief. Supporters are hoping to work legislative channels to make the referendum binding over time.

Even if CMP loses this bid, the arguments today will be a preview of the legal fight facing the state and the utility if voters approve the referendum in November — which seems likely. Backers of the project will probably sue again if that happens, so we could be back here next year. Today’s arguments are at 10 a.m. and will be streamed here.

CMP is smarting over a six-figure fine for its handling of winter disconnect notices. The $500,000 fine is the highest Maine’s utilities regulator is allowed to issue. The company admitted to violating the rules, and the money will be distributed to customers of CMP’s electricity lifeline program in 2019 and 2020 as a bill credit.

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