Supporters and opponents of a 145-mile power line expansion through northern and western Maine have spent more than $15 million so far this year in their efforts to sway voters ahead of a statewide ballot question in November.
The 2021 campaign finance filings updated Thursday also showed that Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, had raised just over $586,000 for her re-election campaign, while spending about $127,000. Mills hasn’t officially declared that she is running for re-election.
The power line expansion referendum will ask voters if they want to ban the New England Clean Energy Connect project and require the Legislature to approve similar projects by a two-thirds vote going forward.
The ballot question will read: “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?”
The top spender so far in 2021 is Clean Energy Matters, a PAC bankrolled by the power line company itself, which is a collaboration between Central Maine Power Co. and Hydro-Quebec. Both power companies also have independently donated to the PAC, which has shelled out nearly $10.4 million in its effort to sway voters to support the corridor.
In addition, another PAC, the Hydro-Quebec Maine Partnership, has spent another $2.9 million promoting the corridor this year, while a PAC formed to oppose the corridor, Mainers for Local Power, has spent just over $2.1 million, according to campaign finance reports filed this week with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.
Since forming in 2019 to support the corridor, Clean Energy Matters has spent $25.2 million, much of it on broadcast advertising in an attempt to gain voter support for the power line, which is being built to deliver energy from hydropower facilities in Quebec to the New England Power grid. Much of that electricity is going to satisfy renewable energy portfolio requirements in Massachusetts.
Combined spending from proponents and opponents of the corridor has exceeded $42 million, campaign finance records show. An earlier ballot question effort, aimed at overturning a Public Utilities Commission decision to approve the expansion, was ended by a Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling that the question was unconstitutional.
Reports filed with the ethics commission Thursday show that spending on the effort has gone on unabated in 2021 – as the Legislature has debated bills related not only to electricity transmission but also to whether foreign governments should be allowed to spend money to influence ballot measures.
Hydro-Quebec is owned by the provincial government in Quebec, and CMP’s parent company is owned by the Spanish energy giant, Iberdrola.
On Monday, the Legislature is expected to vote on Mills’ veto of a bill that would ask voters if they want to create a consumer-owned utility that would buy out CMP and Versant Power. Versant serves much of northern and eastern Maine and is owned by the city of Calgary in Canada.