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Gas Companies To Spend $6M To Boost Opposition To CMP Transmission Project

Courtesy Central Maine Power
A rendering of what the poles will look like along CMP's 145-mile transmission line.

Two national companies with natural gas plants in Maine will dump nearly $6 million on television ads aimed at shoring up opposition to a high-profile transmission project benefitting Central Maine Power and Hydro-Quebec. The post-Labor Day television ad buy will be accompanied by a digital campaign and is designed to counter a combined $16.7 million in spending by CMP and Hydro-Quebec.

The anti-corridor campaign is financed by Mainers for Local Power, a political action committee funded by Calpine and Vistra, Texas-based companies with natural gas pants in Westbrook and Veazie, respectively.

Jon Conradi, a spokesman for Mainers for Local Power, says there's no indication that the influence campaign by CMP and Hydro-Quebec is affecting what polls show as widespread opposition to the project.

"But at the same time Mainers for Local Power believes that the historic and really unprecedented degree of spending from these foreign companies trying to force through this project can't go unanswered," Conradi says.

The campaigns are designed to influence a November referendum that could block the transmission corridor, a project that would bring hydropower from Hydro-Quebec's dams through western Maine and down to Massachusetts.

A Calpine spokesman recently told Maine Public Radio that the slug of electricity into the regional grid would suppress electricity prices enough to hurt the company's bottom line.

Jon Breed, director of CMP's Clean Energy Matters PAC, says the anti-corridor ad buy shows how much fossil fuel companies like Calpine and Vistra are threatened by the project.

Breed would not discuss his PAC's extensive polling to gauge public opinion of the project, but he says the size of the ad buy suggests anti-corridor opponents are worried about what they see in their own surveys.

"This has time and time again has proven to be a good deal for Maine, from lower electricity bills, to less pollution, to now, direct, discounted power for the state. It is a good deal for Maine," Breed.

digital ad by Mainers for Local Power asserts that the project will primarily benefit the foreign owners of CMP and Hydro-Quebec.

CMP is owned by Avangrid, a subsidiary of the Spanish company Iberdrola. The sole shareholder of Hydro-Quebec is the government of Quebec.

Hydro-Quebec's PAC has spent $6 million on the referendum, while CMP's PAC, Clean Energy Matters, has spent more than $10.6 million.

The involvement by Hydro-Quebec has raised questions about a loophole in Maine election law that does not restrict foreign entities from contributing to ballot committees. Federal laws bar contributions and expenditures from foreign nationals, but only in elections involving candidates, not referenda.

Independent state Rep. Kent Ackley sponsored a bill in the Maine Legislature to close the loophole, but the proposal stalled when lawmakers adjourned early because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The spending by the pro-corridor PACs has already eclipsed the roughly $10 million spent by backers of a casino referendum in 2017.

Updated 2:42 p.m. July 16, 2020.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.