AUGUSTA, Maine — Opponents of Central Maine Power’s controversial corridor project have enough signatures to put a challenge before voters in November, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ office announced Monday.
Proponents of a referendum requiring the Legislature to approve the construction of “high-impact” transmission projects over a certain size and passing through the upper Kennebec Valley region gathered more than 80,000 valid signatures, Bellows said. The initiative now goes to the Legislature, which could pass as written or send the issue to voters in November.
It sets up what will likely be another back-and-forth battle between the company and opponents of its $1 billion project with Hydro-Quebec to run electricity from Quebec through Maine to the regional grid as part of Massachusetts’ efforts to increase its use of renewable energy.
A first referendum effort from corridor opponents attempted to rescind a permit issued by the state’s utility regulator. It was deemed unconstitutional by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in August after a series of court battles and costly advertising, which has not stopped. This effort differs by trying to retroactively change state law by requiring lawmakers to approve any transmission project on public land with a two-thirds vote in both chambers.
“Clearly, Mainers remain confident that this is a bad deal,” said Tom Saviello, a former Republican state senator, a Wilton selectman and an opposition leader.
The first referendum generated $19.4 million in spending by political committees controlled by CMP and Hydro-Quebec last year, according to state filings. Opponents, including a political action committee largely funded by gas companies that compete regionally with CMP, spent $2.8 million. Another dark-money opposition group is suing the state to shield its donors from public view. Taken together, it has been the expensive campaign of its kind in Maine history.
Work on the project has begun in the Moxie Pond area around The Forks in rural Somerset County while a lawsuit challenging a federal permit granted last year makes its way through the federal court system as part of the multi-front campaign between proponents and opponents.
Clean Energy Matters, the campaign arm of CMP, said it would be reviewing the signatures and slammed the referendum effort for being broadly supported by gas companies. Jon Breed, the political committee’s executive director said the effort could result in job losses with 275 people working on the line now.
“The last thing we should be doing in the middle of a global pandemic is issuing more pink slips to Mainers because fossil fuel companies don’t like competing with renewable energy,” he said.