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Labor Day typically marks the home stretch of political campaigns, and none will garner as much attention and money in Maine in 2021 as Question 1, a statewide ballot imitative on New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), Central Maine Power's planned 145-mile transmission line carrying electricity generated by hydropower in Quebec to Lewiston.
Tens of millions of dollars are being spent on campaigns to persuade Mainers to either approve or reject the multibillion-dollar project.
A “yes” vote on Question 1 is a vote against NECEC, known as the corridor.
If Question 1 passes, the fate of the project would revert to the Maine Legislature, where a two-thirds majority in both chambers would be required for it to continue.
A “no” vote on Question 1 is a vote in favor of the corridor.
Corridor opponents include former state legislator Tom Saviello, from Wilton, who led the petition drive to get Question 1 on the ballot.
"I want people in Maine to decide. They need to be the ones making the decision whether they want this corridor or not," Saviello said in an interview Friday.
Saviello said the project is bad for the land and wildlife, because a 100-foot wide, 53-mile path of trees will be cut down.
"It's a clear cut. It's a gash right through the environment. It's as far as going from Augusta, so people can get a perspective, to Portland, same distance mile-wise," Saviello said. “Keep in mind that area up there is prime native brook habitat. We have the last existing native brook habitat in the world up there. So, it’s a very special place, and a lot of people who live there depend on the tourism to survive and live.”
Corridor proponents like Clean Energy Matters attorney Newell Augur, argue Maine can lead in reducing its carbon footprint by using renewable hydropower for electricity, instead of burning fossil fuels.
Three out-of-state energy companies with oil and gas-fired plants in Maine are funding the opposition.
Augur said, "The reason Question 1 is one the ballot is because these fossil fuel companies are going to lose lots of money once the corridor is built."
One estimate, from Stepwise Data Research last year, forecast the companies’ collective revenue loss would be $1 billion dollars over 15 years.
Political action committees opposed to the corridor and supporting Question 1 have raised $8 million and spent more than $6 million, according to filings with the Maine Ethics Commission.
The money has gone primarily to Mainers For Local Power, with $6.5 million from Florida-based NextEra Energy, which owns a natural-gas-fired plant in Yarmouth and a nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire, both feeding the New England power grid, as NECEC would.
A combined $1.35 million has gone to Mainers for Local Power from two Texas-based fossil fuel companies, Vistra Energy, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, and from Calpine Corp., which owns one in Westbrook.
Clean Energy Matters, the leading PAC supporting the corridor and opposed to Question 1, has raised $27 million and spent $25 million, according to filings with the Maine Ethics Commission.
Its funds include $7.4 million from Central Maine Power and $8.7 million from its Spain-based parent company, Avangrid. Hydro-Quebec-Maine Partners has contributed $9.7 million.
Saviello argues the $258 million dollars in economic benefits from the corridor that Central Maine Power promises over 40 years, or $6,400,000 a year, amounts to little per month for 1.3 million Maine residents.
“It’s worth 41 cents per Mainer,” Saviello said. "There's a lot more than Maine should have gotten out of this deal."
Augur counters that Maine will receive significant infrastructure and broadband investments and see 1,600 construction jobs over the next two to three years.
“Predictably, they’re going to try to downplay all of those benefits,” Augur said, "It's a very good deal for Maine, it's a very good deal for the planet, and we'd be foolish to pass Question 1."
Clean Energy Matters is warning Question 1 could lead to a retroactive rejection of a project approved by two governors, Maine’s Public Utilities Commission, the state Department of Environmental Protection, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Augur said that would set a bad precedent.
“Anything from your back deck to a highway is now at risk,” he said, because of going back in time to “change a legally and properly followed process.”
The corridor is the top issue on the ballot Nov. 2, and voters can already request an absentee ballot, though they won’t be printed and mailed until closer to Election Day.