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Natural Gas Electricity Generators Form PAC To Fight CMP's Proposed Transmission Project

Fred Bever
Maine Public

Two national companies that operate natural gas plants in Maine are stepping into the fight over Central Maine Power’s power line proposal for western Maine. They’ve created a new political action committee supporting a potential ballot item aimed at killing the CMP project.

The new PAC is called Mainers for Local Power, and it will be funded by two Texas-based companies, Calpine and Vistra. Calpine owns a natural gas electricity generation plant in Westbrook, and Vistra owns one in Veazie.

“We’re concerned about the long-term viability of our operations in Maine,” says Jonathan Flumerfelt, a spokesman for Calpine.

Flumerfelt acknowledges that the injection of electricity from Hydro-Quebec’s dam system into this region via the CMP transmission line would suppress electricity prices enough to hurt the company’s bottom line.

He says the PAC’s goal will be to get out the message that the natural gas plants are significant contributors to Maine’s economy, starting with 22 full-time jobs Calpine’s Westbrook plant.

“They’re very professional, highly-skilled jobs. Many of our employees are Maine Maritime graduates. I think between payroll and local property taxes we contribute about $5 million a year into the Westbrook local economy. We also contribute about $10 million per year to the local economy in spending on various goods and services and even more if we have a big maintenance year,” he says.

Vistra representatives could not immediately be reached for comment, but Flumerfelt says that company’s Veazie plant is similar in scope to the Calpine operation.

The new PAC’s entry comes as the CMP project’s supporters and opponents gear up for a potential statewide ballot fight, if opponents are able to gather enough signatures to get the question on the Nov. 2020 ballot.

Last week, Hydro-Quebec formed a PAC to defend the project in Maine, and last month a group called Clean Energy Matters was formed by CMP’s parent company Avangrid.

“It’s been clear to us that the fossil fuel companies want to see the renewable energy transmission line fail because they will lose millions and millions of dollars. And now there’s proof,” says Clean Energy Matters spokesperson Jon Breed. “Their goal is to spread misinformation about the project and confuse Mainers, and we’re going to work to correct that record at every turn to make sure the people of Maine know the truth about the project and the benefits to our state.”

Project supporters, including Gov. Janet Mills, have criticized earlier advertising campaigns against the power line from a group called Stop the Corridor, which has never revealed its funding sources. Mills and others have contended that powerful — and polluting — fossil-fuel energy companies were behind that effort.

Flumerfelt says Calpine and Vistra intend to be transparent about their funding and interests. And Sandi Howard, who leads a grassroots opposition group informally known as No CMP Corridor, says she’ll take any help she can get, even from large energy companies.

“We’ve been focusing so much with partnerships with NRCM, Patagonia corporate has put money in to help defeat the corridor, we’ve been working with Environment Maine. But it’s no secret that the there are other utilities who oppose the corridor for their own reasons. Even though I may not have the same background, we’re all stronger together for a common goal, and we may not align on the next issue,” she says.

Howard’s group is trying to secure some 80,000 petition signatures by the end of the year, for the ballot item that would order state regulators to kill the power line project. The new PAC has yet to file financial disclosures that could indicate whether it will join that petition drive or focus on other campaign strategies.

Originally published Dec. 18, 2019 at 5:06 p.m. ET.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.