Notes from Lime City: Stop the CMP Corridor! Vote Yes on 1

The Free Press

When Nate first visited votenoonone.com, which seems to be the primary above-board campaign website for the “No on 1” campaign this election cycle, he laughed out loud at the background photo: an otherwise pleasant view of the Maine State House edited, in the grand tradition of political scare ads, to look grainy and sinister. The website is focused on the supposed perils of retroactivity and intentionally neglects to mention either CMP or its execrable “New England Clean Energy Connect” power corridor. But Question 1 is all about the corridor, and about whether Mainers are going to accept the butchering of 53 miles of verdurous forest in the North Woods for high-voltage transmission lines and a project that will generate no new clean energy but will generate billions of dollars in profit for foreign-owned corporations, including CMP, a company notorious for its egregiously terrible service to the people of Maine. The No on 1 campaign declines to mention CMP or its corridor because they are both wildly unpopular: A 2019 poll found that 65% of Mainers opposed the project; only 15% supported it.

The corridor is not a new renewable energy project

The Natural Resources Council of Maine describes the corridor as “a 145-mile transmission line through the heart of Maine to send hydropower from Quebec to electricity customers in Massachusetts.” NECEC Transmission LLC, a shell company formed by CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, to create the corridor, describes it as “the largest clean energy project in New England.” Crucially, however, even NECEC Transmission LLC doesn’t make any claims regarding net carbon savings, instead stating that the project will “contribute to greenhouse gas reduction requirements.” But in truth, it’s not a truly renewable energy generation project, and could actually lead to more pollution. The corridor would primarily redistribute energy already being produced in Canada to Massachusetts, rather than generating new renewable energy. The Natural Resources Council of Maine explains that the corridor could ultimately create more pollution because the electricity that Hydro-Québec currently sends to customers in Ontario and New York would be diverted to Massachusetts, causing its former customers to potentially consume electricity from less-renewable energy sources such as coal or fracked “natural” gas.

The Wording of the Referendum Question

The full text of Question 1: “Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine, both retroactively to 2020, and to require the Legislature, retroactively to 2014, to approve by a two-thirds vote such projects using public land?”

It’s a mouthful, but the essence is pretty simple: If passed, this new law would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to approve projects like the corridor. There is almost no chance the corridor would survive that legislative threshold, so if Question 1 passes, it would most likely stop the CMP/Hydro-Québec corridor. (It’s possible, but highly unlikely, that the corridor could still survive due to legal arguments around “vested interests,” which would ultimately have to be resolved by the courts.)

The CMP/Hydro-Québec Propaganda Machine

We’re disgusted by the $37 million (and counting) that CMP and Hydro-Québec have employed to try to change Mainers’ minds about the corridor. That includes $27.12 million from CMP and its shell and parent companies and $8.58 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec. At the same time, it is worth noting that significant funding in support of the Yes on 1 vote comes from fracked “natural” gas companies; according to Ballotpedia, fracked gas companies have forked over $9.17 million. We are fiercely opposed to fracked gas, so it’s dismaying to find ourselves on the same side as these companies, who are presumably in opposition to suit their own financial interests, but let’s be clear: we don’t support CMP; we don’t support fracked gas.

The CMP/Hydro-Québec propaganda machine is sneaky. Who knows how many front groups they’ve created to try to confuse and convince us? Just today, Becca stumbled on an at-first-glance seemingly legitimate news page on Facebook, “Maine News Update.” But a quick scroll through its contents got fishy fast: the page was created on September 15, 2021, and repeatedly posts identical pro-CMP corridor items, interspersed with a few cutesy posts about pumpkins, sheep, maple syrup, and then, for good measure, Narcan and Maine school COVID-19 outbreaks. Presumably “Maine News Update” is a pop-up front group funded by CMP and Hydro-Québec. In yet another deeply cynical maneuver by their propaganda machine, CMP/Hydro-Québec set up a fake-environmental campaign called “Clean Energy Matters” to force feed us propaganda on their corridor. CMP cares about the environment, about clean energy? This is the same corporation that worked tirelessly to prevent solar power from taking off in Maine.

Despite their propaganda machine, groups as varied as Sierra Club Maine and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine are united in opposition to the corridor, and in Canada a coalition of First Nation tribes in Quebec — the Anishnabeg Nation, Lac Simon, Kitcisakik, Wemotaci (Atilamekw Nation) and Pessamit (Innu Nation) — has filed a lawsuit against the Quebec government to stop construction of the powerline in Canada. As reported by Maine Public in July, the coalition says that more than a third of the dam system providing electricity for the project is on lands the tribes never ceded; the tribes also allege “that to serve the contracts, Hydro-Québec is increasing production capacity at its reservoirs, likely further stressing ecosystems the tribes depend on for sustenance.”

Concerned about retroactivity? Don’t be.

What about the No on 1 accusation that this law would be retroactive, and the supposed dangers to the Maine economy that retroactivity represents? As Bill Nemitz of the Portland Press Herald noted in his recent column “Introducing Maine’s latest bogeyman: Retroactivity!,” retroactivity is nothing new in Maine law and has been upheld by multiple Maine Supreme Judicial Court precedents. Question 1 would not open the door to retroactive legislation, because that door is wide open already. Fundamentally, Question 1 was created specifically to be relevant to the corridor; no businesses (besides CMP and Hydro-Québec) appear to be hollering in concern that Question 1 will affect them. The reality is that this project should never have gotten as far as it has: a state judge recently vacated a lease of public land to CMP, ruling that it could find no evidence that the Bureau of Public Lands fulfilled its constitutional mandate to find no reduction or substantial alteration to public land.

CMP deploys armies of lobbyists, armloads of money, skeins of dubious political connections, and swards of false front groups to get what it wants. The issue is now directly before us, the people of Maine. We urge you to vote Yes on 1 to stop the CMP corridor.

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  • Sandra Howard
    published this page in News 2021-10-06 09:43:11 -0400