Organizers, campaigns buckle down for final push on the NECEC corridor referendum in Franklin County

Lewiston Sun Journal

REGION — Over two years ago, community members in Somerset and Franklin Counties were compelled to take a stand against the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor (at the time, known as the Central Maine Power (CMP) corridor). The corridor is a high-energy transmission line spanning from Canada to New England to connect with the New England energy grid and provide Massachusetts with hydropower and clean energy.

That pursuit resulted in a referendum question to effectively ban the corridor.

Several campaigns have been established to promote their viewpoint, including the Yes on 1 campaign (formerly known as No CMP Corridor), organization Clean Energy Matters and ballot-question-committee Mainers for Fair Laws. The latter two support the corridor and want voters to reject the referendum question.

In the final days leading up to the Tuesday, Nov. 2, election local organizers for and against Question 1 are buckling down in their campaigns.

In Franklin County, Yes on 1 gathered for a rally in front of the Farmington Post Office on Thursday, Oct. 28. Their aim is to educate the public on the corridor.

The Franklin hub of Yes on 1 have been gathering weekly since June 2020. They’ve braved all kinds of inclement weather — 98 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, rainy days, and “freezing cold and sleet.”

Franklin County Captain Wendy Huish gathered with nine other organizers and activists throughout Franklin County. Most who have been rallying weekly are retired members of the community.

Huish has spent the past two years hand delivering signs, gathering signatures for a petition to put the referendum question on the ballot, and advocating for a yes vote on Question 1.

Other ralliers present on Thursday included Generation-Z members of the county hub for Sunrise Movement, a youth-led movement advocating for climate justice and the Green New Deal.

“It’s great to have their input,” Huish said.

Huish got involved for a multitude of reasons. She and her family directly see the effects of the corridor — specifically the deforestation near her camp in Enchanted Township.

Huish also believes that “hydro-dams are not clean energy.”

Sunrise Movement-organizers Isabelle Rooney and Charlie Eng call the campaigns advocating for the corridor “greenwashing,” which is defined as “the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound.”

This has been disputed and created a division between environmentalists. Some believe that the corridor’s “hydropower is not as environmentally friendly as wind or solar,” increase gas emissions and that the deforestation could, among other things, cause “habitat fragmentation,” according to the Bangor Daily News.

Many Franklin County opponents of the corridor, such as Yes on 1 activists and Tom Saviello — a vocal corridor opponent, a former state senator (R-17) and representative (R-90), and a current Wilton Selectboard member — oppose the corridor for its environmental impacts.

That is not the case for every opponent or conservationist.

State representative Scott Landry (D-113 –Farmington/New Sharon) opposes the corridor because it was “a bad deal” for Maine and Franklin County. Landry calls himself “an environmentalist” like other opponents, however he believes that the corridor will positively impact the environment and bring about clean energy.

“Right now a large portion in the (energy) grid is coming from nuclear power plants that are going to be decommissioned in the next few years,” Landry said. “You’re going to need to replace that energy somehow.”

He also noted that there seem to be disputes over many forms of clean energy.

“People don’t want solar in their backyards (a hot-button topic in Franklin County), wind turbines off the coast, wind turbines on mountains,” he said.

Saviello does agree with Landry on the agreement arranged with CMP, Hydro-Quebec and Avangrid (CMP’s parent company).

Saviello called the agreement a “sucky deal” that Mainers are “going to have to live with forever.”

The deal in question would bring $190 million in rate relief — spread out over 40 years — to compensate Maine, which BDN says “only comes out to a few cents per household per month.”

Ultimately, Landry is voting to ban the corridor and publicly endorsed the Yes on 1 campaign.

Landry says this is because, “my job is to vote as my constituents want.”

“I feel that my constituents on the whole want me to be against the corridor,” Landry said.

Though he endorsed Yes on 1, Landry stated that he felt there are “a lot of mistruths…cherry picking of facts…(and) a lot of truths coming from both sides.”

But what does the campaign to reject the referendum question look like in Franklin County? It’s quite unclear.

The Franklin Journal reached out to Mainers for Fair Laws and Clean Energy Matters who were not able to connect us with local organizers.

Rally participant Eng knew of one organizer: a student at University of Maine at Farmington.

This individual is a volunteer with Clean Energy Matters who has set up tables on campus to hand out information on Clean Energy Matter’s views on the corridor.

After The Franklin Journal requested an interview directly with him, the volunteer was told by his coordinator that they “prefer that volunteers do not address the press.”

Aside from the UMF student, it seemed impossible to find local organizers working to reject the referendum question.

In fact, Amber Stone, editor of Franklin County’s independent newspaper the Daily Bulldog, said that the publication was planning to host a debate between opponents and proponents of the referendum question.

However, Stone said Clean Energy Matters was not able to find a representative, local or beyond, to participate in the debate.

Saviello believes this is because, for the most part, “Franklin County is just dead set against” the corridor.

Landry doesn’t necessarily agree with that.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who are going to vote ‘no.’ But they don’t want to come out and say it,” he said.

However, when it comes to the local campaigns, organizers feel that Yes on 1 and the general corridor opposition’s grassroots efforts speak for themselves.

“We are more close knit,” Yes on 1 rallier Karla Bock said. “We’re Mainers.”

Bock added that “we’re not really associated with giant corporations or corporations like Hydro-Quebec.” Though it is important to note that “several out-of-state energy companies, led by NextEra, which operates the oil-fired Wyman Power Station in Yarmouth” have “spent a combined $16 million” to back the yes vote, according to BDN.

Many Republicans, Democrats and other political affiliations have also taken a stance against the project. For example, both Landry, a democrat, and Franklin County state Sen. Russell Black, a republican, have endorsed Yes on 1. This nonpartisan unity on the matter also speaks for itself, Saviello, Landry, Black and Yes on 1 county organizers agree.

Either way, Franklin County residents will surely be keeping a close eye on what comes of the referendum and beyond.

After all, Franklin County residents are some of “the people who are directly affected by it,” Landry said.

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  • Sandra Howard
    published this page in News 2021-10-31 06:11:39 -0400